Sessions Tells Pain Patients to ‘Tough It Out’

By Pat Anson, Editor

Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.

That old cliché is finding new life – at least in the mind of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions --- who suggested twice this week that aspirin is the solution to the nation’s opioid crisis.

"I am operating on the assumption that this country prescribes too many opioids," Sessions said during a Wednesday visit to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Tampa. "People need to take some aspirin sometimes and tough it out.”

During his 25-minute speech, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Sessions veered away from his prepared remarks to cite the example of White House chief of staff Gen. John Kelly, who refused to take opioid painkillers after recent minor surgery.

"He goes, ‘I’m not taking any drugs,’" Sessions said, drawing a laugh while imitating Kelly. "But, I mean, a lot of people — you can get through these things."

"That remark reflects a failure to recognize the severity of pain of some patients," said Bob Twillman, PhD, executive director of the Academy of Integrative Pain Management.

JEFF SESSIONS

JEFF SESSIONS

"It’s an unconscionable remark," Twillman told the Tampa Bay Times. "It further illustrates how out of touch parts of the administration are with opioids and pain management."

Sessions made similar statements Tuesday night at a Heritage Foundation event marking the birthday of President Ronald Reagan.

"Sometimes you just need to take two Bufferin or something and go to bed," said Sessions, who added that his goal in 2018 was to see a continuing decline in opioid prescriptions, which have been falling since 2010.

“We had a 7 percent decline last year in actual prescriptions of opioids. We think doctors are just prescribing too many,” he said. “These pills become so addictive. The DEA says a huge percentage of the heroin addiction starts with prescriptions. That may be an exaggerated number. They had it as high as 80 percent. We think a lot of this is starting with marijuana and other drugs too.”

Sessions was referring to a single but often-cited survey, which found that most heroin users in addiction treatment also abused prescription opioids. The fact is most addicts try a variety of different substances – such as tobacco, marijuana, alcohol and opioid medication – before moving on to heroin. It is rare for a legitimate patient on legally prescribed opioids to use heroin.  

The Drug Enforcement Administration – an agency that Sessions oversees – has ordered a reduction in the supply of prescription opioids in 2018. That’s in addition to steep cuts in opioid production quotas the DEA imposed in 2017.  The agency ignored dozens of public comments warning that further reductions this year in the opioid supply could create shortages.