By Jacob Sullum / Reason

Two recent studies show how the attempt to curtail drug abuse by discouraging and restricting opioid prescriptions has hurt bona fide patients by depriving them of the medication they need to ease their pain. The harm inflicted on these innocent bystanders, which would not be morally justified even if the opioid crackdown did what it was supposed to do, is all the more appalling because limiting legal access to these drugs seems to have accelerated the upward trend in opioid-related deaths by driving nonmedical users toward black-market substitutes.

Jon Furuno, an associate professor of pharmacy practice at the Oregon State University College of Pharmacy, looked at prescribing patterns among 2,648 terminal patients who were transferred from an academic medical center to hospice care from January 2010 through December 2018. During that period, regulators and legislators responded to the "opioid crisis" by directly and indirectly limiting analgesic prescriptions, often in ham-handed ways. While that was happening, the study found, the share of hospice-bound patients who had opioid prescriptions when they were discharged fell from 91.2 percent to 79.3 percent—a 13 percent drop.