Re: “Washington state starts trial against 3 opioid distributors, claiming firms didn’t do enough to stem illegal use” [Nov. 15, Local News]:

The case for holding distributors of opioids accountable for the opioid epidemic makes sense. But how reasonable is it to have the Drug Enforcement Administration oblige distributors, as well as pharmacists and physicians, to take on the role of law enforcers? Physicians and pharmacists are licensed professionals whose job is to provide health care, not to be pseudo “vigilantes” under the DEA.

To hold the distributors, manufacturers and even some physicians so publicly accountable may perpetuate the denial of more important “system” problems. Limiting access to abusable substances works. Personal risk factors can be better managed, and treatment works. Socioeconomic factors are important to recognize and address. Let us strongly advocate for a robust public-health approach.

It is our country’s emphasis on punitive and shaming measures rather than prevention and rehabilitative measures that most needs fixing. As with alcohol prohibition, the war on drugs failed and arguably exacerbated matters.

J. Kimber Rotchford, M.D., M.P.H., Port Townsend