By Pat Anson, PNN Editor
Former Vice-President Joe Biden, who appears close to announcing a run for president in 2020, may want to think twice about the message he’s sending to a large group of voters: chronic pain patients.
While speaking Thursday as part of a panel on the opioid crisis at the University of Pennsylvania, Biden said too many doctors “willy-nilly overprescribed” opioid pain relievers.
"A little pain is not bad," said Biden. “A lot of people can get addicted within five days.”
“We got here, I believe in part, because of the greed of the drug companies and the irresponsibility of them and, quite frankly, a lack of sufficient responsibility on the part of the medical profession,“ Biden said, adding that 215 million prescriptions for opioids were written in 2016.
“We desperately need people with chronic pain to have this access, but you cannot convince me anywhere near that is the case,” he said.
The 76-year old former senator also expressed regret about being a co-sponsor of the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which created tougher sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine. Critics say the law sent a disproportionate share of African-Americans and other minorities to prison.
"The big mistake was us buying into the idea that crack cocaine was different from the powder cocaine, and having penalties ... it should be eliminated," Biden said, according to Delaware Online. “I’m sorry I didn’t know more about behavior.”
Biden’s knowledge about the opioid crisis appears dated. The vast majority of overdose deaths are now attributed to illicit fentanyl, heroin and other black market opioids, not pain medication. The number of opioid prescriptions has also been declining for several years and now stand at their lowest level since 2003.
Prescription opioids are not particularly risky if used responsibly, according to a recent study of over half a million Medicare patients who were prescribed the drugs. Over 90 percent had a negligible risk of an overdose. Even among “high risk” patients on high opioid doses, the risk of an overdose is less than two percent.
A major review of studies on long term opioid therapy found that only 0.27% of patients were at risk of opioid addiction, abuse or other serious side effects. In another large study, The British Medical Journal reported that only 3% of opioid naïve patients (new to opioids) continued to use the drugs 90 days after a major elective surgery.
Biden’s advice to pain sufferers that “a little pain is not bad,” is reminiscent of a statement by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who told a Florida audience in 2018 that "people need to take some aspirin sometimes and tough it out.”
You can watch the opioid panel discussion on YouTube by clicking here.