Saturday, October 21, 2017

Fake News about the Opioid Epidemic

Recently, the Washington Post and CBS touted a blockbuster story about the opioid epidemic that is ravishing our nation. As might be expected, the paper wants the story to pin blame for the problem on Republicans, especially on Congressional Republicans. If you are a propaganda organ of the Democratic Party your role in life is to fight Republicans. No more and no less.

As it happens, no one doubts that responsibility for the opioid crisis lies with pharmaceutical manufacturers, physicians who prescribe the drugs, and the government agencies that approved the new drugs. But, Congress... not so much. Anyway, there is a lot of blame to go around.

Unfortunately, the Post’s breathless expose about the Republican-led Congress suffers from a notable defect in reasoning. Writing in the Wall Street Journal Holman Jenkins identifies it:

Unless the Washington Post and CBS ’s “60 Minutes” have discovered a new, physics-defying form of quantum action at a distance, their splashy exposé last weekend identified neither the cause nor any solution.

I’ll admit I didn’t read the Post’s 7,800-word opus on first pass. To the credit of some merciful editor, the lead sentence told me I needn’t bother. The piece begins: “In April 2016, at the height of the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history, Congress effectively stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against large drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation’s streets.

In other words, whatever the sorry tale of the sausage factory to follow, the abuse epidemic was already in full swing when Congress acted barely a year ago, so the DEA’s “potent” weapon perhaps wasn’t so potent.

Get it. By the time Congress got around to passing its bill, the “most potent weapon” that the DEA had had against the drug companies had been failing. And had been failing badly. It’s nice to see such a blatantly dishonest lead in a news article. Surely, it deserves attention.

The tool in question was “immediate suspension orders” against drug distributors. Yet, as Jenkins points out, these orders were already being reduced, well before Congress got into the act:

Moreover, the Post hardly bothers to substantiate the central pinion of its story—its claim that the DEA has been deprived of a vital tool, known as “immediate suspension orders” against drug distributors. Such orders peaked at 65 in 2011 and have fallen to single digits. But is this a meaningful gauge?

A federal survey finds misuse of prescription opioids peaked in 2012 and has returned to 2002 levels. Suspension orders were already being dialed back—41 in 2012, 16 in 2013—before Congress intervened. Maybe the message got through to drug distributors via a tactic that didn’t lend itself to being repeated or accelerated.

The article wants mostly to blame the Republican Congress. And yet, the vote on the bill was unanimous. All Democrats voted for it. The legislation was supported by the Justice Department and signed by Barack Obama. It was one bill among many. And yet, why miss an opportunity to bash Republicans:

In an accompanying editorial, the Post fulminates that “Congress alongside the pharmaceutical industry helped fuel the opioid crisis,” but fails to mention the bill in question was one of 18 that the Associated Press called a “mountain of bills addressing the nation’s opioid abuse crisis.”

The measure in question, which rewrote the legal standard for suspension orders, was approved by the Obama White House, DEA and Justice Department. It was unanimously supported by Congress. It reflected, as the New York Times noted, a Congress under pressure from drug lobbyists to show an interest in “ensuring access to narcotic painkillers” for patients even while “addressing the addiction epidemic linked to those drugs.”

Finally, we get to the real target of this totally dishonest investigative report: one of the bill’s authors, Rep. Tom Marino, a man who was being nominated to be the Trump administration drug czar. But then, you need to ask yourself how important the drug czar really is.

Jenkins has the answer:

I got around to reading the rest of the Post piece after it prompted one of the law’s many authors, Rep. Tom Marino (R., Pa.), to drop out of consideration for Trump drug czar. Don’t worry. I am not about to overplay the significance of this consequence. The drug czar is a largely powerless office whose value is symbolic at best.

Fake news, anyone?

1 comment:

Sam L. said...

Ought to be a question mark, not a period, on your last line.

Otherwise, CBS and the WaPoo have a nothing-veggieburger. Or just a picture of one.

Cynical? Moi? You betcha.