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Joe Henderson: Jeff Sessions’ joke was lame but issue is not

If that was Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ idea of a joke, we can safely say he is no threat to take over for Jimmy Fallon as a late-night comedy star.

Sessions was widely mocked for suggesting Wednesday in Tampa that people in need of pain relief might want to “switch to aspirin” instead of using prescribed opioids, adding they should consider trying to “tough it out.”

But I did not come to condemn Sessions this morning. Although his attempt at humor was lame, his premise that too many powerful opioids are routinely prescribed has merit and needs to be addressed.

I have twice been prescribed opioids for pain relief – a 30-day supply of OxyContin after an appendectomy, and a bottle of 20 Hydrocodone tablets after dental surgery. I never came close to using all the pills either time.

It’s not because they don’t work; oh, they work all right. They work too well, and that, weirdly, is the problem. People hurt, they take a pill that makes the pain go away, and they keep taking pills because they like feeling better.

These drugs are basically synthesized heroin. People who abuse the pills get addicted.

Then, along comes a drug like Fentanyl, which Sessions declared to be “the number one killer drug in America,” and it becomes a field day for drug traffickers preying on addicted people looking for pain relief.

No one is immune. Addicts can be everyday people struggling with a wrenched neck or back, maybe the result of a car wreck or work injury. They can be star athletes. Former NFL star guard Conrad Dobler once told me he took between three and four thousand Vicodin tablets in a year’s time in a futile attempt to get relief from pain left over from his playing days.

The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention reported nearly 64,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2016. More than 1,000 people require emergency care each day for not using the prescription drugs properly.

More people now die from opioid abuse than from breast cancer or guns.

As these drugs have grown more powerful, state and national lawmakers have tried to combat the problem with political solutions. For instance, Fort Myers state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto has filed SB 8, which would limit most prescriptions to a 3-day supply.

That might work in some cases, but it’s only a tiny step in a crisis that can’t be solved without a wide-ranging approach.  Long-term pain doesn’t go away in three days, and aspirins don’t help. Tallahassee can’t pass a law and consider their

If someone is driven by pain most of us will never understand to get relief, they won’t care about laws or the potential harm to their bodies. And, sorry Jeff Sessions – they can’t, or won’t, “tough it out.”

So, while lawmakers debate which Band-Aid bill to pass, they might consider providing much better funding for drug treatment and education. Work with drug manufacturers to see if less-powerful medicines can be developed to provide relief without creating a generation of addicts.

It’s a problem that affects every city, in every state, and it won’t be solved overnight.

People are dying. It’s no laughing matter.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jim Rosica, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Dan McAuliffe, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
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