America has a serious problem with prescription opioids, and it’s not just the problem that immediately comes to mind. That is: it’s not just that they’re killing people. The danger of opioids is now well-known, but the problem is bigger than that. Opioids are both dangerous but also highly effective at treating some kinds of severe pain. What that means is that the healthcare system needs to utilize opioid analgesia, but in the midst of a drug overdose epidemic in which opioids feature prominently, that same system is afraid of these medications. The end result is that clinicians risk both undertreating pain (out of fear of opioids) and overprescribing opioids (because they want to be able to treat pain). This bigger problem is ‘The Opioid Dilemma.’ In this talk, bioethicist and director of the Johns Hopkins Institue of Bioethics Masters program Travis Rieder will use his own experience as a trauma patient to underscore the nature of this problem, and then explore some of the gaps in pain treatment, as well as how clinicians—and institutions—can close those gaps.
Travis N. Rieder, Ph.D., wants to help find a solution to America’s opioid crisis—and if that sounds a bit too lofty, he’d settle for making clear, incremental progress in a responsible, evidence-based way. A philosopher by training, bioethicist by profession, and communicator by passion, Travis writes and speaks on a variety of ethical and policy issues raised by both prescription and illicit opioid use.
This wasn’t always his beat, though. Both in his doctoral training at Georgetown University, and as faculty at Johns Hopkins University’s Berman Institute of Bioethics, Travis published widely on a variety of topics in philosophy and ethics. His interest in opioids came about suddenly, after a motorcycle accident, when he took too many pills for too long and suddenly found himself with a profound dependency. In the wake of that experience, he became driven to discover why medicine is so bad at dealing with prescription opioids, and how that problem is related to the broader drug overdose epidemic.
Travis’s first article on the topic, in the journal Health Affairs, was one of the most-read essays in 2017 and was excerpted by the Washington Post. Since then, Travis has co-authored a Special Publication of the National Academy of Medicine on physician responsibility for the opioid epidemic, written several essays for the popular media, and spoken widely on the topic to physicians, medical students, and the general public.