Do we, as a rich and enlightened society, have a moral obligation to do everything we can to help people with self-imposed heroin or opioid addictions? In the case of opioid addiction, it is estimated that about 40,000 people die each year from an overdose. In response, pressure is being put on doctors to use extremely conservative care when prescribing pain medication.
We are told by medical authority that all addictions are a disease, but does that free the patient from personal responsibility if the addiction was a personal choice?
To illustrate what we are fighting, i.e. the power of an opioid addiction, the courts felt that incarceration of addicted pregnant women in order to protect the unborn child was the right thing to do, but then it turns out the expectant mothers were inducing premature births in order to get back out on the streets. Babies were born into the prison toilet and their little lives were flushed away just so the mother could get high.
The Journal of American Medicine reports: “…they will do anything to get drugs, they are unreliable, agitating, manipulative, and they play games with other people. They are considered to be poorly motivated to stop using drugs.” This is a pretty reprehensible person. So, should we establish some reasonable preconditions to addiction treatment? Many doctors say yes, and ad that ethical guidelines for treating addicted patients is way overdue.
Does cost to society matter? Narcan aka Naloxone, is a popular remedy that revives overdosed patients by neutralizing the opioid effects. The costs vary from a $6500 life saving injection at the emergency-room to $138 a nasal spray given under less severe circumstances.
A recent news story reported a woman was admitted to the ER for a Narcan injection over 30 times in the past year. This prompted the local town council to put a limit on the number of trips to the ER they would cover. They would no longer have a blank check for irresponsible addicts. Their city policy now pays for ONLY three visits. Unfortunately, this places the hospital in an awkward position. They have a moral and financial issue to deal with because federal law says they must render lifesaving treatment, regardless of the patient’s prognosis or ability to pay.
Now considering all this, I ask you again, what should be our moral obligation to drug addicts? The Libertarian in me says, people should be free to get high, but then they are also responsible for the consequences. If you feel this way too, don’t you think it’s time we revisit that federal law that mandates lifesaving care at hospitals? I think times have changed and we need to rewrite the limits of a hospital’s liability for certain classes of patients.