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ASAP -American Society for Action on Pain


Who are we?

We are an organization of patients who suffer from chronic pain, their families, the physicians who treat them, and other interested citizens.

Why is there a need for this organization?

There is a crisis in pain treatment in the United States. Many, if not most, patients who are in severe pain find it almost impossible to get adequate pain medication. My own mother has called me asking me if I would understand if she committed suicide because of her pain.

Why don't more people know about this problem?

The first reason is that pain patients report that other people don't want to hear about it. The truth is that it is very wearing and burdensome psychologically to listen to the truth about another person's pain, especially when that pain is severe enough that it has caused them to consider suicide. I have heard from many of them, and I can confess honestly that it is hard to listen to them sometimes, even when you want to help. If it is that tiring for me - and I am not in pain - it must be far worse for them.

The second reason is that it is hard to be a force for any kind of change in the world when you are in so much pain that it is difficult to get out of bed, or even move. As bad as the situation is, there is very little these people can do about it.

The third reason is that they die - often because of the pain directly when they commit suicide. No one is counting on their votes in the next election.

How did this happen?

The primary reason is the War on Drugs. The drive to restrict narcotics and other drugs went overboard on this issue from its very inception. We have had such a "moral" and legal drive against narcotics, that it has made it impossible for patients to get them, even when there is a severe need, and they are the cheapest, safest, and most effective medicines for pain.

The Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 contained a provision which specifically allowed doctors to continue prescribing these medicines, "in the legitimate practice of medicine". At the time the law was written, this clause was intended to allow the use of narcotics for legitimate medical purposes, such as pain control. However, the drug enforcement officials of the time realized that, if doctors were allowed to prescribe drugs as they saw fit for the best interests of their patients, this opened the door to heroin maintenance programs, if the doctors thought heroin maintenance was in the medical interests of the patient.

Therefore, the drug police obtained a court ruling that no prescription of narcotics such as would fit within a "legitimate" medical practice. This created a complete prohibition of some drugs which are recognized safe and effective medical pain relievers, such as heroin.

After the law was passed, there was considerable protest from the medical community about the laws and the way they were being enforced. To silence the opposition, the drug enforcement police arrested about 3,000 doctors nationwide, focusing on those doctors who were involved in drug addiction treatment and were most vocal against the laws. That campaign against doctors created a legacy that has lasted into modern times.

Aren't these drugs addictive?

Yes, these drugs are addictive for some people. See Basic Facts About the War on Drugs for rankings of addictive qualities. As with all drugs, the great majority of people who use them, particularly for medical purposes, do not suffer from addiction. Major studies of the medical use of drugs such as morphine has shown that the addiction rate for the medical use of these drugs is under one percent. In all cases, doctors report that they are able to treat the addiction by gradually tapering off the medicine.

Where can I learn more about the problem?

Read the references in other sections of this web page. You can also get a copy of the report by the Department of Health and Human Services at 1-800-4 CANCER. There are two reports, one for doctors and medical professionals, and one for patients and others. These reports will be coming to these pages in the near future.

What can you do to help?

  1. Join the Media Awareness Project. See the MAP Web Page. Tell the media about this library. Get the truth out to everyone you can. Make sure your local media sources log in to this library and read the information before they do their next story on drugs.
  2. Write to your elected officials. Tell them that this drug policy is a sin. No matter what else we may do about drugs, there is no excusing for denying medicine to sick people.

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