If I go to a doctor because I'm in pain, and the doctor believes that I need a prescription medication to alleviate that pain, how hard should it be to get that prescription filled? Pretty hard, apparently, if the FDA gets its way. According to an article in today's Times, the Food and Drug Administration, in response to an increase in the number of deaths traced to prescription drug abuse, has recommended new restrictions on hydrocodone, the active ingredient in drugs like Vicodin. Some pharmacists and patients rights groups are concerned about the proposal.
Modern society has a strange relationship to medication: On the one hand, there seem to be pills for everything, from wonder drugs that cure horrific diseases to modern-day snake oil cures for diseases that didn't seem to exist before the "cures" came along (Restless legs syndrome? Insufficient eyelashes?). But when it comes to something as seemingly uncontroversial as pills that alleviate basic human suffering--pain--we tend to become uneasy. It's not just prescription drugs, either, of course: The essential effect of so many of the drugs outlawed by "enlightened"" society--marijuana, heroin--is nothing more insidious than the alleviation of pain. This is not meant as an endorsement of these drugs--although I personally believe in decriminalization of pretty much all narcotics--but merely an observation that in this highly medicated society, we seem uneasy when it comes to drugs that do nothing more than make people feel good.
Maybe that's the problem, though. We have no major problem with drugs that cure diseases, because we usually have some objective proof that (A) the condition exists and (B) that the drug has cured it. "Pain," on the other hand is intangible; it is, quite literally, all in your head. This is not to say that it is not real to the sufferer--simply that there is no objective way to verify that it exists or how bad it is. And for some reason, we as a society have seen fit to regulate the amount of pain relief to which people are entitled--even if a doctor agrees that such relief is needed.
Certainly, if people are abusing prescription drugs to a lethal extent, there is a problem. But I don't think a government agency dictating the way that trained medical professionals dispense necessary medication is the right response. I imagine most doctors are as concerned about drug abuse as your average government bureaucrat. Let them be the ones to determine what is appropriate.