The worst ravages of the opioid crisis can seem as though they’re happening elsewhere. Stories of multiple overdose deaths, of parents abandoning children, of thriving black markets in pain pills, can seem horrifying, but they don’t necessarily affect us here in Kansas.
Unfortunately, the presence of highly addictive prescription painkillers has been felt everywhere. They have come to Kansas. They have harmed our people.
Take this story from The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Tim Carpenter, published in July 23: “The owner of Neighborhood Pharmacy in Wichita was found guilty Tuesday by a federal jury of illegally filling large numbers of prescriptions for highly addictive opioids sought by patients of a physician sentenced to life in prison for distribution of drugs.”
Ebube Otuonye could end up spending two decades in prison. His business sold tens of thousands of tablets of narcotics for a doctor who had earlier been sentenced for unlawful distribution of narcotics.
To be sure, this is a complex issue with decades of errors. Recent comprehensive reporting from the Washington Post suggests that systemic flaws among drug makers, prescribers and pharmacies hooked millions of Americans on drugs that destroyed their lives.
These folks needs to be held accountable. They must answer for the consequences of their actions, however unintended.
The sad fact is that many people, including many Kansans, struggle with chronic pain. They should be able to access treatment that allows them to live fruitful lives, without creating debilitating addiction. We truly do not gain anything as a society by criminalizing those who have actual, pressing medical needs.
Unlike tobacco, which never had a redeeming health value, opioids can actually be helpful for some people. But like tobacco, we have a situation where marketing suggested that a product could be spread throughout society without any possible ill effects.
We know that’s not true. We now know the toll these advertisements and marketing efforts took.
In Kansas, our task is clear: We must make sure that opioids do not take a greater toll here. We must make sure that doctors and pharmacists that break or skirt the law are held to account. And we must do everything we can to move those addicted to these potentially deadly substances into recovery.
We don’t want to see a repeat of the horrific, widespread situation seen across the Northeast in the Great Plains. We must be alert and ready to act.