It appears to be an immutable law of governance that government will almost always overreact to a problem (whether real or perceived). Often, government does this by passing new criminal laws rather than simply taking the time and exerting the effort to enforce laws already on the books. Passage of the Patriot Act in 2001 — which gave the federal government vast, new powers to limit free speech and privacy, is a prime example. Other times, the government simply passes laws inconveniencing everyone in an effort to stop the relatively few scofflaws hiding amongst us. Gun control — in which the government makes it difficult or impossible for law-abiding citizens to purchase or own firearms – illustrates this approach perfectly.
Here in Georgia, concern that drug abusers will gain access to prescription controlled substances, has led state and local officials to overreact in typical fashion.
At the state level (and as reported in this Blog on March 22nd of this year), the legislature has tried repeatedly to pass legislation creating a mandatory Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, including a prescription drug database. This past session of the General Assembly, legislators again failed to muster sufficient votes to send such a bill to the governor. This was good news. The prescription drug database that would have been created would have been a reporting and privacy nightmare for doctors who prescribe various pain medications, for patients who need and are prescribed pain medications, and for pharmacists who fill such prescriptions. Of course, the proponents of this privacy-invasive and unnecessary legislation, which includes many Republican legislators and state drug officials, vow to continue their efforts next year; hoping to wear down the opposition (led by state Sen. and now state Attorney General-candidate Preston Smith).
At least one local government — Cobb County — is unwilling to wait for next year; and appears also hesitant to simply use laws already on the books that make it a crime to prescribe or give controlled substance medications such as pain pills, to persons not authorized to receive them. Rather than simply investigate evidence that certain doctors, clinics, or other “pill mills” are breaking laws already on the books, and then taking steps to arrest and prosecute those responsible, Cobb County and some of its incorporated city governments have taken the easy way out and simply declared a moratorium on the opening of new pain clinics. No matter the fact that there is a legitimate and lawful need for people with severe or chronic pain to be able to visit a doctor or a clinic and receive prescriptions for the medications; or that there are not sufficient such clinics to meet the legitimate demand for such services. These local officials apparently have concluded it’s easier to just dictate there will be no new clinics permitted for the time being, than it would be to direct law enforcement to conduct approptiate and necessary investigations actions against abusers.
Throwing the baby out with the bathwater by banning pain clinics may make for a good soundbite, and it may make law enforcement’s job temporarily easier. But it’s not the way our system of limited government power was supposed to operate; and it does in fact harm law-abiding citizens.