Are prescriptions manslaughter, or even worse: murder?
The opioid epidemic has been progressively getting worse since its start in the late 1990s. According to the CDC, in 2021 there was a staggering “…100,306 drug overdose deaths in the United States…in April 2021, an increase of 28.5% from the 78,056 deaths during the same period the year before.” This is the first time ever that opioid overdose deaths have surpassed 100,000, and it will keep exponentially rising until action is taken. The only way to stop the opioid epidemic is to establish harsher punishments on anyone illegally distributing opioids, including doctors that overprescribe their medications and pharmaceutical companies that overdeliver opioids or distribute unsafe versions of them.
Opioids are medications that are prescribed by doctors to patients to ease the severe or persistent pain of their patients. They act by blocking the pain receptors in the brain and make you feel happy and relaxed. However, these prescriptions are highly addictive that can easily kill someone. Common deadly types of opioids include Oxycontin, Vicodin, Percocet’s, and Fentanyl. These drugs are legally given out by prescriptions from a doctor.
A prescription is when a doctor writes a note that claims the patient needs a drug and authorizes the pharmacist to give it to them. However, sometimes doctors overprescribe their opioids which can be extremely deadly to their patients. Ronald Hirsch, in his article, “The Opioid Epidemic: It’s Time to Place Blame Where It Belongs,” admits that “…we prescribe 30 or 60 pills when 5 or 20 would have been adequate.” Although doctors sometimes overprescribe medications without ill intent and just want their patient to not feel as much pain, prescribing too many opioids will most likely cause them to become addicted and search for the drugs anywhere they could find them.
For most people that road leads to the same destination: a drug overdose. An overdose is when someone takes a poisonous number of drugs at the same time which results can cause slow or stopped heart rate, unconsciousness, seizures, etc. If any of these symptoms go without intervention, the person can die. Overdoses and its effects are well known by anyone distributing opioids, whether it be drug dealers, doctors, or pharmaceuticals, and they know that it will lead to death in most cases. However, many of these opioid providers provide these opioids regardless of its dangers, and if the person they provided the opioids to dies, these providers should be charged with manslaughter or even murder.
Giving any type of drug is a prescription and the rules of that prescription are to constantly check on the person you are prescribing it to and make sure nothing happens to them from taking it. The same rule is applied to drug dealers because they too are prescribing drugs when they hand them out.
A similar situation occurred in the court case R v Kennedy, in which it was established that when a controlled drug is given to an informed and responsible adult, and they die from voluntarily administering that drug, they cannot be charged with manslaughter.
However, this is not the case most often because if the drug dealer supplies them to an adult who is not in the right state of mind, then they cannot be “responsible.” Most addicted people only care about that one drug and would say or do anything to get it. Drugs like oxycontin, Percocet’s, and Vicodin, make it so that you can’t think clearly and just make you feel good. A user would not be able understand fully how harmful it is to them because they are so distracted from the “high”, or that good feeling that drugs give.
Even after they have taken a drug once, this cannot be considered “responsible or well-informed” because even if they knew of the dangers, they clearly can’t consider them. The same thing applies to doctors who prescribe incredibly addictive pain killers to patients who are in great pain. When a patient is in great pain, their inhibitions and decision-making skills are non-existent meaning they don’t fall under the “well-informed or responsible either.” By the time they are released from the hospital, they may already be addicted which would keep them from being “responsible.”
According to research done by Harvard Medical School, “. Since several of these powerful painkillers became available in pill form several decades ago, doctors have been prescribing more than the patients need.” This is the biggest problem when talking about drug misuse because doctors are the ones that need to be more responsible because they have legal access to these drugs. Whether it be for a family member/close friend or because they are being negligent when prescribing, doing this should lead to larger criminal punishments, in par with the punishments that drug dealers get.
Doctors are just the professional version of a drug dealer, which should increase their responsibility even more because they are more well-informed. Malpractice is considered a civil case, but it should be considered a criminal case when talking about over-prescribing drugs. If the doctor is supplying drugs to a dealer who is selling them for more money, the doctor should be charged with the same crime that a drug dealer would be charged with: wide distribution of drugs. If anyone died directly because of that wide distribution, they should be charged with manslaughter as well.
Punishments should not go as far as a homicide charge because the intent to kill is not there. Negligence and money are the main reason doctors are over-prescribing drugs and killing is not on that list. Murder is when someone intentionally kills someone else, whereas manslaughter is when someone is killed by accident which I believe is the case in the above arguments.
The reason these increased criminal measures need to be taken is because drug use has reached all time high numbers with close to 100,000 people dying a year, and countless others having health problems due to these drugs with Oxycontin, Percocet’s, and Vicodin being major contributors to that number. “About 38% of adults in 2017 battled illicit drug disorders” and “drug abuse and addiction cost American society more than $740 billion annually…”. These statistics were taken 5 years and the numbers have increased even more since then.
While there are countless drugs out there making “drug abuse” too broad, targeting the strongest and most problematic ones (Vicodin, Oxycontin, and Percocet’s) are the first steps that need to be taken to begin progress towards drug safety. We need to go back to the source of the problem and begin tackling it from there which is the production of the drugs or at least the suppliers.
“What New Opioid Laws Mean for Pain Relief.” Harvard Health, 15 Apr. 2020, https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/what-new-opioid-laws-mean-for-pain-relief.
Authored by Editorial StaffLast Updated: March 3, 2022. “Drug & Substance Abuse Addiction Statistics.” American Addiction Centers, 3 Mar. 2022, https://americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/addiction-statistics.
Elliott, Catherine, and Claire De Than. “Prosecuting the Drug Dealer When a Drug User Dies: R v Kennedy (No 2).” Modern Law Review, vol. 69, no. 6, 2006, pp. 986–995., https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2230.2006.00619.x.
Good material, NF. Some of it is pretty iffy. For example, a definition from one of your sources:
Be careful not to grab statistics that back your perceived position. Be a critical reader too. Weak statistics undermine your credibility.