Election rhetoric collides with empathy for opioid addicts

The caustic commentary of presidential politics is reflective of a deeper issue that impacts how we engage with our patients


Having had the precious right to vote in every presidential election since Ronald Regan prevailed in 1980, I have watched the ebb and flow of political rhetoric with great interest. The election serves as a mirror into our country's gestalt — what we think, feel and believe as a society. This is not to say that we think as one unit; it's clear from the popular vote that we are deeply divided in what we think about where we live and where it should go in the future.

The fiery language about serious issues relating to you and I does stand in stark contrast to past election cycles. I don't think any of us really enjoyed the demeaning, derogatory and outrageous comments that were made by both candidates and their supporters during the past few months.

All of that rhetoric clouded what should have been meaningful debates and discourse about health care reform, immigration, public safety and public education. Those conversations didn't happen.

Opioid addiction is a clinical concern that is currently out of control in many areas of the country. (DEA.gov Photo)
Opioid addiction is a clinical concern that is currently out of control in many areas of the country. (DEA.gov Photo)

Instead, we — the candidates, the media, the pundits and the voting public — allowed ourselves to get wrapped up in some pretty meaningless bovine excrement. It made for great theater and I am determined to get past that.

The caustic commentary is reflective of a deeper issue that impacts how we engage with our work lives in EMS. Consider the issue of EMS agencies developing programs to combat opioid overdoses.

The comments from readers about the "One Breath from Death" campaign make it seem we are sharply divided on the empathy scale for overdose victims. Some EMS providers argue that the fault of addiction is the responsibility of the individual, who chose that path and should not receive special consideration. Others argue the other side, framing the patient as victim and needing society's help in being cured.

Like most contentious issues, the truth of the matter likely lies beyond the rhetoric. Opioid addiction is a clinical concern that is currently out of control in many areas of the country. EMS providers have a duty to act to these emergencies, whether it's in a one-on-one response of a 911 call or as a concerted effort to be more effective agency wide. How one personally feels about addiction or the individual patient can't hold sway over any meaningful plan to protecting public health.

That's a challenge. EMS providers are human, with the charge to render care and assistance to someone in need, at a moment's notice. And while we might vehemently personally disagree with the politics surrounding that patient's condition, we can also courageously exhibit the professional and empathetic behavior that gains respect from the community.

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