CNN Opioid Crisis Town Meeting with Sanjay Gupta and Anderson Cooper

CNN Opioid Crisis Town Meeting with Sanjay Gupta and Anderson Cooper, Lynn R Webster, MD, Chronic Pain, Addiction

Opioid Crisis Town Hall Meeting

On May 12, CNN broadcast a town hall meeting about the American opioid crisis with Sanjay Gupta and Anderson Cooper. The show’s audience included people who had used opioids for pain, and some who had become addicted to opioids. It has caused a considerable stir among people in pain.

Much of what Dr. Gupta had to say on the show and in a follow up article that appeared on was about the opioid crisis, and little was mentioned about the pain crisis. The focus was on how opioids have contributed to a major public health issue spurred on by an inappropriate use of opioids to treat pain. Gupta and Cooper said physicians need to take the lead in reversing this problem.

In fact, many physicians have been attempting to do just that. The problem is the political system and payers (that is, healthcare insurers) are unwilling to do what’s necessary to address the opioid crisis without sacrificing the health and humanity of people in pain.

Opioid Crisis Solution?

The best “solution” to the opioid crisis that politicians and health insurance companies can come up with is to implement policies and regulations that withhold treatment for people in pain.

Having spent much of my professional life working with people in chronic pain, it is difficult for me to see how some high-profile medical journalists and other so-called experts can ignore the needs of people in pain. Pain is too serious to overlook.

If left untreated, chronic pain can ruin relationships (including marriages), and destroy lives. We know that suicide among people with chronic pain is nearly 3 times greater than in the general population. Chronic pain can even force people to consider unfathomable options, including euthanasia, to escape pain.

This tragic truth should be as alarming as the rising number of opioid addictions in this country but, sadly, it is not. To me, death that is caused by suicide, malnutrition, or compassionate euthanasia due to untreated chronic pain is an unacceptable way to lose a mother, father, grandparent, or child.

At the same time, I recognize that people die of opioid overdoses, and I find those deaths to be just as unacceptable as the other pain-related deaths.

Zero Unintentional Deaths

In 2006, I created a nonprofit foundation, Zero Unintentional Deaths (you’ll find another video here). Its primary goal was to reduce the number of unintentional overdose deaths to zero. My efforts began locally, in Utah. My hope was to grow the organization nationwide.

But, unfortunately, I could not afford to continue my campaign. I failed to garner enough political and financial support to implement the programs that were necessary on a national basis. I refused to accept money from the pharmaceutical industry or from anyone whose participation might create a perception of bias.

This was important to the foundation’s credibility, but that decision made it financially difficult to maintain and broaden the campaign. However, our efforts, along with the Utah Department of Health’s efforts, were very successful in temporarily reducing the number of unintentional overdose deaths in Utah.

I am convinced that, had our efforts in Utah been extended nationally at that time, we would not have the opioid crisis we face today.

Under the best of circumstances, an effective physician-led campaign like Zero Unintentional Deaths could have only addressed a part of the problem then, and that is still the case today.

Physicians cannot prevent the public from using heroin or diverted prescription opioids, but physicians can mitigate the chances of prescription painkillers’ harming patients they treat by appropriate assessment and monitoring.

The lack of effective pain education and treatment options are root causes to our current crisis.

Physician journalists have enormous opportunity and responsibility to show the complex challenges of what will be required to reverse the opioid crisis and not leave people with pain inadequately treated.

Voices from journalists such as Dr. Gupta could make a difference. With his high visibility, he could advocate for more formal pain education and additional research for alternative pain treatments.

Gupta is correct in saying that we need physician leadership to reverse the opioid crisis.  As a physician and a celebrity journalist, he holds more responsibility than most.

Purchase my book The Painful Truth: What Chronic Pain Is Really Like and Why It Matters to Each of Us (available on Amazon) or read a free excerpt here.

the painful truth, lynn webster, md, chronic pain

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Copyright 2016, Lynn Webster, MD


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