LSAT Logic and Prescription Drug Addiction

LSAT Blog LSAT Logic Prescription Drug Addiction
LSAT Blog reader Jamie wrote the following LSAT-style analysis of a recent NYTimes article on prescription drug abuse. Please feel free to discuss her analysis, and the article itself, in the comments.

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In a recent NYTimes article titled, “Prescription drug overdoses invade New Mexico,” a reporter suggests that the people of New Mexico are the best in the nation at becoming addicted to prescription drugs. It also suggests that they're best at overdosing on them, or switching over to more affordable alternative of heroin, and overdosing on that.

Naturally, government officials and non-profit workers alike are all trying to find a solution.

When discussing possible solutions, the reporter writes, “Still, there’s a concern that creating too many restrictions could push patients to the streets for drugs. And beyond ramping up rules, the solution, some say, ultimately lies with more treatment facilities.”

Whoever has this concern seems to think that more people will end up addicted to illegal drugs if it's harder to get prescription drugs them.

This seems pretty fishy to me. And, by fishy, I mean nonsensical. But since it's always important to see both sides, I’ll try to see the logic behind the concern.

I’ll assume that the “street” drug people are afraid of patients turning to is heroin. Otherwise, the patients would just be getting prescription drugs off the street, which is unlikely to be that much more harmful than getting it from a doctor.

So here’s my attempt at understanding this argument:

Out of the people who are prescribed prescription pain killers, some become addicted and some do not. Out of those who become addicted, some end up heroin addicts and some do not. If it is harder to get prescription pain killers, then the ones who would have not become addicted to anything, will start using illegal drugs such as heroin and become heroin addicts. The people who would have become addicted to painkillers and stopped there, will also become heroin addicts. The net result? More people addicted to heroin.

And here are the obvious problems with this argument (numbered for clarity’s sake):

1) One of the big issues here is people becoming addicted to their friend’s prescriptions. In fact, the article starts off with somebody saying how his heroin addiction started with his addiction to his friend’s Percocet prescription. As in, if his friend hadn’t been prescribed Percocet, he would not have become addicted to them. How many people would have been saved from addiction if their friends had not been prescribed powerful painkillers? This is one factor that is not at all considered by those who are reluctant to restrict such drugs.

2) The question at hand is how to avoid severe addiction and death by overdose. When efforts become aimed at preventing people from using illegal drugs, the original problem is completely forgotten. Because it is almost, if not equally, as easy to become addicted to prescription painkillers as it is to become addicted to heroin. And just as easy to overdose.

The subject of the article is overdosing on prescription medications. Legal medications. Drugs that are off the “street” that everybody seems so afraid of. Lets suppose for a minute that these concerned people are right. That more people would become heroin addicts if there were too many restrictions on legal drug access. Does that mean more people would be dying? Or does it just mean more people would be dying with syringes sticking out of their arms?

3) Throughout the article, it is emphasized that almost everybody who becomes a heroin addict starts out with pills. As in, almost nobody goes straight to heroin. Assuming this is true, it seems unlikely that a patient in extreme pain would resort to heroin or other illegal drugs. They would probably be more likely to pump themselves with over the counter painkillers like tylenol. Still addictive, but much less addictive.

Thus, it seems, that if New Mexico really wants to eliminate the problem of prescription drugs being both a killer and a gateway drug to heroin, they should impose restrictions on the public’s access to this medication in order to:

-save the friends of injured people from becoming addicted to anything at all
-save some of the injured people from the same fate
-let the people who would have become addicted prescription painkillers anyway, become addicted to the illegal drugs first, since its actually pretty much just as harmful.

Photo by fillmorephotography


  1. First of all, the quote you provided doesn't address addiction at all, which seems to be an assumption you made to support the focus of your blog. It simply says "...there’s a concern that creating too many restrictions could push patients to the streets for drugs, i.e., someone in pain might get illegal drugs to soothe them if it is too difficult to get legal drugs. Moreover, wouldn't taking drugs that are precribed to someone else be illegal. And, the premise before the quote is just telling us what you think the article is about -many people from New Mexico become addicted to prescription pain killers. What does that have to do with becoming addicted to illegal drugs? The suggested solution merely says that people will turn to the streets if it is too difficult to get drugs legally. That doesn't say or mean they will become addicted to the illegal drugs. You make that jump on your own. In fact, people who are addicted to a legal drug may not find the illegal substitute addictive.

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