LTE – Janet Scepurek – 7-26-2017

To the Editor,

I beg to differ with the Opinion-Piece-Disguised-as-a-News-Story called “The unintended consequences of Obamacare?” that you printed in your July 12th edition. I will call it Fake News, because it does not correlate with the factual information that I found.

I Googled “causes of opioid epidemic,” and not one mention of Obamacare came up. Here is what I found.

[emember_protected] HHS.gov, among other things, says that adults aged 18-25 are the biggest abusers of prescription drugs. Homeless youths are more likely to use illegal drugs.

The CDC website says that since 1999 opioid use has quadrupled. A chart shows that heroin caused half the deaths until the last couple years. It is presumed that a large portion of the increase is illegally made fentanyl. A change in the way deaths are analyzed in 2015 decreased deaths in prescription opioids. In a large portion of overdose deaths the drug is not listed on the death certificate. There is both a 15-year increase from prescribed drugs and a recent surge in illicit opioid overdoses. Today nearly half of all US opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid. A chart shows the greatest increases in recent years are with privately insured and higher incomes (not Medicaid, as the author of the Fake News alleged).

Drugabuse.gov states that in the late 1990s pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients wouldn’t become addicted to prescription opioids, and providers prescribed at greater rates. In 2001 the Joint Commission on Hospital Accreditation created a standard to assess pain in all patients and gave doctors a book stating that no evidence of addiction is a significant issue — sponsored by Purdue Pharma. In 2007 three executives pled guilty to downplaying the possibility of addiction. Heroin overdoses have more than quadrupled since 2010; increased availability, lower price than prescribed opioids, and high purity of heroin have been identified as possible factors in the rising rate of heroin use. Amounts of heroin confiscated at the southwest US border quadrupled between 2000 and 2013. A chart shows that Medicaid patients had no significant change in opioid use between 2002 and 2013, whereas those who had private insurance or no insurance had a 60-63% increase. Another chart shows that heroin use has risen since 2010 while prescribed opioids have remained stable. (This statement directly contradicts the Fake News’ assertion that Obamacare was somehow responsible, as Medicaid would include only prescribed drugs.)

The CNN website stated that in 2010 oxycontin had a new version with an “abuse deterrent” added.  In 2011 a doctor admitted he was wrong when he published that opioids were not addictive.

I found a New York Times article dated June 5, 2017 (maybe the same article the purporter of the Fake News referenced) reporting increased overdose deaths on the east coast: Maryland, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Maine, and that Ohio filed a lawsuit accusing five drug companies of abetting the epidemic. (The author of Fake News neglected to quote “heroin is the devil’s drug,” because he was too busy trying to incorrectly blame Obamacare and Medicaid.) According to the NYT article, in 2016 the western half of the US did not experience more opioid drug use, but leveled or declined, reflecting a divide in the heroin market between the powder found east of the Mississippi and the black tar heroin west of the Mississippi.

I found a statement online that when people can’t get drugs legally they get street drugs perhaps laced with fentanyl or other impurities.

The Fake News writer made a huge leap in logic to assume that Obamacare or Medicaid expansion had anything to do with increased opioid deaths. The very same doctors who see Medicaid patients see non-Medicaid patients also. Are we supposed to believe that doctors would prescribe differently depending upon a patient’s insurance? Does the Fake News author want us to believe that Medicaid patients get more opioid prescriptions than other people do? That’s not what I found. It’s true that patients who are now getting coverage through the ACA Medicaid expansion are now able to see a doctor — who may or may not prescribe for them; but even if they do prescribe, I am old-fashioned enough to believe that a legal prescription is preferable to illegally obtained drugs that are not regulated, the strength is unknown, and/or might be laced with something else lethal. With a prescription a person gets a multiple page printout of every possible side effect and warnings to use it properly. Just because more people may now have Medicaid does NOT mean that more drugs are prescribed to them OR that they are abused. In fact, it is illegal heroin that is the cause of the increase since 2010, so the author is completely wrong in purporting his theory not supported by facts (assuming the government websites are correct).

After two lengthy columns of spin, speculation, conjecture, and fiction — and three unsourced graphs — the author of the Fake News concludes that “correlation does not necessarily imply causation.” That is my favorite sentence, because it’s one of the few he got right! The Fake News article is an example of how a person can misconstrue facts to fit their preconceived bias against Obamacare. Obviously the entire reason for the Fake News article was to bash Obamacare, even if the author had to use non-facts/Fake News to do it.

I never took Journalism 101, but I thought journalists were supposed to report facts and that an opinion piece belonged clearly marked as OPINION (in this case “wild speculation” would be more accurate). I thought opinions were supposed to based on fact, not fiction. Perhaps you could have an Opinion Page like other newspapers do? We readers shouldn’t have to do our own research to determine whether a newspaper article is real or fake.

The older I get, the tireder I get of being lied to.

Very truly yours,
Janet Scepurek [/emember_protected]