Consider the opioid.

If you've undergone a period of substantial pain, you probably understand the allure. Those pills will knock out the hurt. If the pain is chronic, as it is for so many Americans, opioids can help reduce the agony.

They're also at the center of a major public health issue.

Austin Frakt has a piece at the New York Times on how dealing with opioid abuse would pay for itself.

I'd like to highlight a few of his key points:

1: Fatal overdoses from opioid analgesics (painkillers) soared in the first decade of the 2000s.


2: There's a cultural bias that treats drug addiction as a character defect instead of a health issue and/or disease. This stigma may be seen as helpful when it comes to prevention, but it can be extremely unhelpful when it comes to analyzing public policy.

3: Expanding treatment for opioid abuse would pay for itself if you consider the big picture.


Frakt is careful to note that public health programs and insurers would be hardest hit in terms of cost, while the benefits would mostly accrue to other sectors of society. This is an issue, but not an insurmountable one.

If you haven't already, go read Frakt's full piece. (And open those links. They're full of interesting figures and data.)

Once you've done that, come back here so you can read this New Yorker feature on Stephen Schneider, a Kansas doctor who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for illegally prescribing narcotics, health care fraud and money laundering.

It's frustrating to read about Schneider seeming to be willfully ignorant of patients who needed therapy, not pills, but it's an insightful look into the health care system and regulatory patchwork that has encouraged our opioid disaster.