Opioid Epidemic: More Government is not the Answer

August 24, 2017

Nicholas Pandelidis, MD on repeal replace ObamacareMany believe that only more government intervention can solve our economic and societal ills. Yet one can reasonably argue that big government programs, though well-intended, have worsened the very problems they were implemented to address. Notable examples: The War on Poverty has trapped people in poverty, the Affordable Care Act has made healthcare insurance less affordable, and No Child Left Behind has left the poorest children behind. Simplified or outright faulty analysis of the cause of the problems—as well as often predictable unintended consequences—are chief among the reasons these government programs fail. Even worse, the original problems, e.g. poverty, unaffordable healthcare, dismal inner-city public education, etc., have their origins in government policy unintended outcomes.

What are the government’s solutions to the opioid crisis? First, to step up the manifestly failed War on Drugs that has cost a $trillion, resulted in the violent deaths of 10s of thousands in our country and abroad, and not lowered illicit drug usage. Also sadly, mass incarceration of drug offenders—disproportionally black and poor—has made the “land of the free” the world’s largest jailor.

The second solution has been to intimidate physicians into curtailing the appropriate writing of pain relievers, unnecessarily increasing the discomfort of patients with acute painful conditions. Recall the data (from recent op-ed on opioid crisis) showing remarkably low rates of addiction for those given narcotics after surgery. Even worse, many chronic pain patients on long-term narcotics – a group that the CDC had found have a risk of opioid overdose death rate of less than 0.2%—who have been cut off from their pain medications that are of known purity and potency—have resorted to street versions of narcotics, which has resulted in significantly higher overdose events.

One can reasonably argue that big government programs, though well-intended, have worsened the very problems they were implemented to address.” ~Nicholas Pandelidis, MD

What about the origins of the despair underlying the opioid crisis? Again it can be argued that despair in significant part has arisen from well-intended but misconceived government social and economic policy.

Government run schools have manifestly failed those most in need. The most recent NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment testing found 45% of fourth-grade and 33% of eighth-grade students perform at or above the Proficient level in NAEP mathematics while 36% of fourth-grade and 34% of eighth-grade students perform at or above the Proficient level in NAEP reading. And the NAEP sets a relatively low bar for proficiency. This failure is not a result of lack of funding—between 1970 and 2010 spending per student has more than doubled in inflation adjusted dollars while achievement scores are unchanged—but rather a lack of educational freedom.

The War on Poverty truly has turned out to be an unintended war on the poor. The poverty rate was already on a steady decline before Johnson’s Great Society. It had dropped from about 22 percent to 15 percent between 1959 and 1965. Since 1965, $trillions have been spent and the poverty rate has settled in between 12 and 15 percent ever since, even though American society is now much more prosperous overall. The War on Poverty has restricted upward economic mobility of the poor, trapping generations of families in poverty. Further, it has created economic and social problems worse than those it was meant to solve: dependency, the breakdown of family with soaring rates of teenage pregnancy and single mother households, and collapse of urban community civil society.

In the entire history of mankind, there has been only one successful anti-poverty “program”—economic growth; and there has been only one successful principle for economic growth: economic freedom. The more freedom, the more growth.

Economic growth drove our country’s unparalleled prosperity, freedom, and national security. Between 1948 and 1987, per capita income more than doubled. Family income more than doubled for both those families in the lowest 20% of income and in the highest 20%. The poverty rate fell from 30.5% to 13.5%. And during that same time period, life expectancy rose from 67 to 75 years.

Sadly, our country has been in economic decline for the last 50 years. Our big government has increasingly taxed and regulated our once robust economy with a predictable result. In the 50s and 60s, annual GDP growth averaged over 4%, in the 70s, 80s, and 90s over 3%, and over the last 10 years a mere 1.3%. Government spending at all levels (federal, state, and local) amounted to 15 percent of GDP in 1940. In 1980, it was 30 percent. By 1990, it was 32 percent. And today, it is 36 percent. Government’s role in throttling the economy seems clear: the more government intervention, the less economic freedom, the less economic growth.

This trio of inadequate educational outcome of government schools, poverty programs and economic stagnation have robbed 10s of millions of the opportunity for and the dignity of self-sufficiency. It should not be surprising that there should be so much despair our society.

More or better-conceived government intervention is not the answer. Unintended consequences, wasteful implementation, and special interest plundering are unavoidable. But there is a better way—freedom. Not freedom for a particular class, or sexual orientation, or gender, or race, but freedom that respects and protects every individual’s freedom. Such freedom promotes societal tolerance, diversity, peaceful interaction, and prosperity. Freedom is good and true. Freedom is hopeful. Unlike government programs that can only be implemented through coercion, freedom does not need to be imposed; rather, only allowed to blossom and flourish.

Please join the campaign for liberty. Our future freedom and prosperity depend upon it.

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