Solving the Opioid Crisis Isn't Just a Public Health Challenge—It's a Bioethics Challenge

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Among those who discuss America's opioid crisis, it is popular to claim that we know what we, as a society, ought to do to solve the problem—we simply don't want it badly enough. We don't lack knowledge; we lack the will to act and to fund the right policies. In fact, I've heard two versions of this. Among those who focus on prescription opioids, it is clear that we ought to stop prescribing so many powerful opioid painkillers. And among my public health colleagues focusing on illicit drug use, it is clear that we ought to expand addiction treatment and harm-reduction services. The problem, however, is that the second claim is not obvious (and, indeed, is denied by many Americans), and the first claim probably isn't even true (at least, not in so crude a form). In short, the opioid crisis presents not only a problem of political will but also one of ethics. It will take work to discover or justify our normative claims in this arena.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)24-32
Number of pages9
JournalHastings Center Report
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020


  • addiction
  • bioethics
  • harm reduction
  • opioid crisis
  • overdose
  • responsibility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Philosophy
  • Health Policy


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