Do We Have a Right to Self Medicate for Pain?

Do We Have a Right to Self Medicate for Pain?
Posted by FoM on December 23, 1998 at 06:16:59 PT

Now there is little dispute in the scientific community that the most efficacious treatment for intractable pain would be the refined version of morphine, the best drug currently available.
Kevorkian made this point rather forcefully a few weeks ago on network television.That's why some of the Citizens for Compassionate Care who fought Proposal B are now calling for a significant overhaul of state laws regarding pain management.This, of course, means adopting a new attitude about and approach to the use of drugs -- the ultimate bugaboo of their erstwhile allies in the conservative movement.Not surprisingly, the more potent form provides better pain relief at lower doses and with fewer side-effects. Indeed, this drug was originally developed more than a century ago for precisely those reasons. Prior to being made completely illegal, it was marketed in the United States by the Bayer company under the trade name: Heroin.We can probably gauge the reaction of the nanny-state conservatives to a proposal to make heroin available for medical use by their response to similar recent proposals with regard to marijuana (a drug so mild that there has never been so much a single recorded instance of a fatal overdose).In 1996, medical marijuana proposals appeared on ballots in California and Arizona. They passed in both states.Federal government officials promptly went ballistic. A furious Gen. Barry McCaffrey, White House drug czar, threatened to pull the prescription writing privileges of any doctor who dared recommend marijuana to a patient (the drug has proven effective in ameliorating the side-effects of cancer and AIDS treatments as well as relieving the symptoms of glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and other chronic maladies.)This year similar measures appeared on ballots in Washington, Nevada, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia. Also, the legislature in Arizona put a referendum on the ballot asking its citizens if they didn't want to reconsider their 1996 vote.The results were that laws allowing medical marijuana use passed in all four additional states.Furthermore, the good folks in Arizona said they were not interested in rescinding the approval they had given previously.However, the results of the vote in Washington, D.C. remain unknown. It seems that Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., managed to insert a provision in the District's budget authorization bill last October that prohibited the local government from expending any funds whatever on any vote for any measure that would reduce the penalties for marijuana possession. Too late to amend the already printed ballots, the vote went ahead. The results were simply withheld.The American Civil Liberties Union promptly filed a lawsuit demanding that the results be released under the Freedom of Information Act and alleging that the measure attempting to prohibit the vote was an unconstitutional "viewpoint-based restriction" in violation of First Amendment in any case.The Libertarian Party has filed a friend-of-the-court brief and joined the complaint, which was heard by U.S. District Judge Richard W. Roberts on Dec. 18. A ruling is expected by year's end.Whatever the outcome, one thing recent events have made manifest about the nanny-state branch of conservatism -- is that their drug jihad hysteria has reached truly astonishing proportions. They not only no longer care about the wishes of the people, but refuse to even recognize that in a democratic system citizens have a right to make their wishes known.Of course, the religious-right zealots who want to stop Kevorkian at all costs are a pretty determined bunch themselves.It's definitely going to be messy divorce.Tim O'Brien is chairman of the Libertarian Party of Michigan. Write to him in care of the Free Press, Editorial Page, 600 W. Fort St., Detroit, Mich. 48226.
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