Opioid Prescriptions Drop for First Time in Two Decades. Great news. But maybe not as great as we hoped.

Opioid prescriptions have actually been declining over a 3 year period, in the wake of an extraordinary era when they rose to incredible heights. As we’ve said so many times before, that was the result of a ┬ácomplicated set of factors, including the introduction and heavy marketing of new opioid painkillers, the widespread circulation of some questionable data on the risk of addiction, and redefined protocols for the treatment of chronic (noncancer) pain– for which there’s no clearly identifiable acute cause, and which can continue indefinitely.

Anyway, by the time the American healthcare system fully grasped the extent of the problem, we were already beginning a second-level epidemic involving street drugs. As the nation limited the availability of Oxy etc, users jumped ship to heroin.

This is how drug epidemics often work. You’re usually well behind the curve and struggling to catch up. That means an unusual number of unintended consequences. If we’d heeded the warnings of addictionologists back in the ’90s, we wouldn’t be here now. But there were plenty of warnings about the economy prior to the crash of 2008, and we somehow managed to ignore those.

As a result, I suspect few of the actions we’re taking now will produce the desired outcome any time soon– that outcome being a dramatic decrease in fatalities. It doesn’t help that many states are cutting back funds for low-cost treatment, mostly due to budget problems. I’d expect that to lead to more calls for Colorado-style legalization of cannabis, a ready source of tax revenue.

Perhaps some of that could go to treatment. Although our experience with legal casino gambling suggests it’ll be a small percentage. The bulk will go elsewhere.

Then the price of pot will fall due to competition, further reducing those tax revenues.

Geez, this is sounding like climate change– everything’s interrelated, with no quick easy solutions (those being the sort that get people elected to office).

Still, it’s a good start. Finally. I guess we’ll just have to keep plugging away.