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Editorial: Painkillers shouldn't cause pain

| Monday, Nov. 19, 2018, 4:33 p.m.
FILE - This Friday, June 1, 2018, file photo, shows syringes of the opioid painkiller fentanyl in an inpatient pharmacy. A new report from the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy says 1,565 people died in the state from drug overdoses in 2017. That's an 11.5 percent increase from 2016. More than half of the overdose deaths in 2017 were caused by fentanyl, a synthetic opioid. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
FILE - This Friday, June 1, 2018, file photo, shows syringes of the opioid painkiller fentanyl in an inpatient pharmacy. A new report from the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy says 1,565 people died in the state from drug overdoses in 2017. That's an 11.5 percent increase from 2016. More than half of the overdose deaths in 2017 were caused by fentanyl, a synthetic opioid. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Painkillers don’t kill pain. They just relieve it for a while.

Narcotics do this by dulling the senses. They do not take away what is causing the pain, because sometimes that’s impossible. You can’t make end-stage cancer not hurt. All you can do is make the pain less sharp and give the person dealing with it a little respite.

Pennsylvania, like the rest of the nation, became mired in an opioid epidemic in part because of prescription painkillers dispensed with the promise of erasing pain but the end result of increasing it. In 2017, 49,000 people died due to opioids. That’s 9,000 more than the number of people who died in all vehicle crashes, according to the National Safety Council.

So why would we approve a way to make it worse?

We started with people taking Vicodin and oxycodone and other prescription narcotics. When addiction took hold, many turned to illegal but cheaper and sometimes easily acquired heroin. Remember when heroin was as bad as things got?

Then there was fentanyl. A synthetic opioid, fentanyl was a highly potent alternative for the most intense pain. It didn’t take long for it to become abused, and with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noting it as 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, that doesn’t just translate to a higher high. It also means a higher profit. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, a trafficker could make $500,000 with a kilogram of heroin. With the same amount of fentanyl, the profit is up to $5 million.

At first fentanyl in the drugs was the exception, not the rule. It was the boogeyman addicts were warned about, one that could kill you because you didn’t know it was there.

It didn’t matter. From 2014 to 2015, the presence of bootleg fentanyl showing up in drugs just in Ohio went up 196 percent. Across the country, synthetic opioid deaths are jumping by bigger leaps each year. Between 2014 and 2015, they escalated by 73 percent, the CDC said.

America is fighting opioids as a national crisis. Pennsylvania is working to find solutions as one of the hardest hit states.

And the Food and Drug Administration has responded by … greenlighting the next evolution of the monster.

This month, the FDA approved a 3-millimeter-wide pill that is up to 10 times more potent than fentanyl. A variety of sufentanil, it is called Dsuvia and is designed to be absorbed quickly under the tongue. It is intended only to be used in hospitals. Maybe on the battlefield. It will cost $50 to $60 for a dose.

How can this possibly go wrong?

Pretty easily, according to the chairman of the FDA advisory committee that recommended approval in a 10-3 vote, who condemned the decision. He and others, including four U.S. senators, say it will make the opioid crisis worse and more people will die.

We are still fighting the thing three levels behind this new drug, still trying to find ways to keep dental surgery and a bad back from becoming a greased slide into addiction, but the FDA has given the go-ahead to make the slide steeper and end going over a cliff.

Painkillers are supposed to relieve pain. Not cause it.

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