I received a lot of feedback in response to my last column, which addressed how the federal government’s restrictive prescribing guidelines have limited access to opioid medications for people suffering from severe chronic pain who really need them.
Most of that feedback was from people who shared stories of having their pain medication being arbitrarily restricted or cut off completely. My heart goes out to them, and I hope that those who have the power to do something about this problem are listening.
I also received a challenge of sorts from one correspondent. That person wondered if I had the same opinion about the government butting out of our private affairs when it comes to gun control laws as I do about their interference in medication prescribing practices.
I thought it was an interesting challenge, and a good opportunity to practice the debating skills I learned back in high school. So I’m going to offer a response to that question this time out.
I believe that any attempt to equate excessive government interference in how doctors prescribe medication with laws meant to restrict access to certain types of firearms is an example of what logicians call a “faulty analogy.” That is a logical fallacy that occurs when an assumption is made that because two things are alike in one respect they are necessarily alike in some other respect.
In this case, the two things we are comparing are both examples of the government regulating things that its citizens may want to do. They have that one thing in common, but to leap to the conclusion that if you don’t believe one example of government regulation is prudent then you must be opposed to all types of regulation is where the faulty analogy occurs.
You should examine each law or regulation on its own merits before you decide if it is, overall, more of a benefit or detriment to society. And I believe that the benefits and detriments to society of the government’s behavior in this case are different in both kind and degree.
The curbing of doctors’ ability to prescribe whatever pain medications they believe are best for individual patients plainly has serious detrimental effects on people who need those drugs to have any quality of life. The cost in human misery is substantial.
The upside of the more restrictive policy for prescribing opioid medications is presumably that fewer citizens will become addicted to them or even overdose on them. Drug addiction is a serious problem, but it’s worth noting that the consequences are mostly borne by the people who choose to take these drugs.
To compare that issue to government regulation of firearm ownership, I’m going to assume we are talking about the most commonly proposed changes to laws designed to curb gun-related violent crime – the banning of the sale of semi-automatic rifles with large magazines and the mandating of background checks for all firearm purchases.
The downside to these proposed changes to gun-related laws is that citizens will have less freedom to buy certain types of firearms and they may have to wait longer to buy any type of firearm in certain circumstances. That’s annoying and inconvenient for some firearm enthusiasts, but in my estimation it’s hardly in the same category as being forced to live with untreated chronic pain.
The presumed benefit of the aforementioned changes to firearm ownership laws would be that fewer gun-related crimes might be committed. It’s impossible to say just how much impact they would have on crime, but it is at least plausible in my mind to suggest that the benefit (a possible reduction in gun-related crimes) might be worth the cost (annoyance over not being able to have a new AR-15 hanging in your garage.)
So I don’t think it’s logically inconsistent to oppose government interference in what pain medications doctors may prescribe to their patients and also support some new restrictions on legal gun purchases. Of course if you see a different cost-benefit result from each case, you may come to a different conclusion.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.