America's new drug of choice

BY WILLIAM MOYERS Modified: July 23, 2012 at 9:37 am •  Published: July 23, 2012

The most astute, concise and understated comment of the week comes from a colleague of mine: "Prescription drugs continue to dominate the headlines." No kidding.

Here's a smattering of just one day's worth of those headlines:

"Many Fatal Overdoses Linked to Methadone" (The New York Times).

"FDA mandates drugmakers to provide more painkiller education for doctors, patients" (CBS News).

"Statistics: Opioids making other drugs more lethal" (

There also were a host of headlines heralding serious accidents and deaths attributed to prescription drug use, in cities as big as Boston and in out-of-the-way hamlets in places such as rural Kentucky.

In those places and in many others — most likely including where you live — officials described the problem the same way: "It's an epidemic."

No wonder; deaths caused by opioid addiction now eclipse those caused by traffic accidents.

Never did I consider that the day could come when society's king denizen — alcohol — is dethroned by another potent foe. Cheap beer, fancy wine and distilled spirits have been the most used and misused substances in American history. And they continue to wield a mighty scythe, slicing through people in all layers of our society.

I suspect alcohol still reigns supreme for the problems it causes. But now prescription medications — manufactured by companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange, legitimately dealt from the high pedestal of medical professionals for real problems, such as chronic pain and acute injuries, and paid for by health insurance — aren't just another come-and-go fad favored by the stereotypical junkie.

Think about it: What's in your medicine cabinet? Yes, you, too, are a drug user. (Alcohol is a drug, but most people don't see it that way, and I'm not going to argue the point right now. My editor apportions my word overrun, and I've exceeded this month's bonus.)

Many people take these drugs not really understanding the risks. Many doctors don't, either; that's why the Food and Drug Administration's new measures require more than 20 manufacturers of extended-release and long-acting opioids to contribute funds toward education and training programs for doctors and their patients, helping them to weigh the benefits and risks of opioid therapy and providing information on the safe use and disposal of these addictive drugs.

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