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What Hollywood Misses about the Opioid Crisis (Jeff Singer, M.D.)

November 3, 2021

Hollywood is blaming doctors for the opioid crisis. Doctors are a scapegoat. The government is truly at fault.

Hulu has released a new miniseries based on the best-selling non-fiction book, “Dopesick”.  Jeff Singer, M.D., a surgeon and senior fellow at the Cato Institute, discusses what the presentation gets wrong: it wasn’t physicians who were solely responsible but government policies and top-down approaches that failed to address the root cause of substance abuse disorder, which began decades before 2012, when the government started cracking down on pain prescriptions. Singer discusses the myths behind prescription pain medication use, the difference between an addiction and dependence, and why the public should not vilify those who seek pain relief.

Singer bases much of his perspective on treating patients in his surgery practice. He describes the hardship his patients have faced in continuing pain treatment because many people assume they’re “drug addicts.” Singer reflects on medical practice beginning in the early 2000s, when powerful opioid pain drugs came onto the scene and why physicians prescribed them. He discusses an industry policy at one point to encourage hospitals to treat pain as a “fifth vital sign.” Government reimbursement policies under Medicare and Medicaid also encouraged generous prescription pain writing. COVID has overshadowed the opioid crisis, but it still exists and seems to be getting worse. In the 12 months ending June of 2020, 83,000 people died of a drug overdose in the U.S., according to the CDC. This is the highest number in a 12-month period.


Relevant links:

Hulu’s “Dopesick” Revives a False Narrative and Pain Patients May Suffer,” Cato Institute blog, October 11, 2021

Other articles by Jeff Singer, M.D. on prescription pain medication and harm reduction:


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AnneMarie Schieber is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Health Care News, Heartland's monthly newspaper for health care reform. @HCPolicy