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Prescription Pain Pill Abuse: Profits, Former President Clinton’s Efforts, and the FDA

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Prescription Pain Pill Abuse: Profits, Former President Clinton’s Efforts, and the FDA

Clinton Foundation.jpgAha! I finally understand the difference between the opiods oxycodone and hydrocodone, thanks to a New York Times reporter who wrote about the prescription drug industry making money in a piece called “Profiting From Pain.” Oxycodone is found in Percocet and OxyContin; hydrocodone is found in Vicodin.  (Fentanyl and methadone are other opioids, by the way.)

The article pointed out that opioids have grown in use for long-term pain over the last decade, even though they have not always done the job for long-term pain and can have “serious consequences” as we’ve seen over and over. The writer also mentions side-businesses that have sprung up from the epidemic of abuse, such as those that provide urine screening tests not only for employment purposes, but for medication compliance screening. The rampant abuse has also taxed law enforcement agencies and emergency rooms. (The journalist doesn’t mention the social costs, which the recovery community knows about all too well.) Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Oxycontin.gif

The Addiction Recovery Blog reports that one person who hopes to tackle the problem of prescription drug abuse — make a difference – is former President Bill Clinton. His foundation, hopes to increase awareness among those aged 18 to 26.  It’s a two-pronged approach aimed at campuses, and businesses employing people in physically demanding jobs (undoubtedly because accidents are higher among these workers and they may need pain pills at some point). He also wants to strengthen prescription monitoring programs.

Clinton is so smart and so passionate, but can he really do more than others? It will be interesting to see. According to the Recovery Blog, people from his foundation served on a panel with NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, New York University President John Sexton and director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Nora Volkow. Is it a question of adding more money to the effort, and more people with name recognition? How do you really fight peer pressure?

There was other optimism about curbing the painkiller epidemic in early September when the FDA announced it was changing the labeling requirements for long-acting pain medication. By the end of December, labels will have to state that drugs like OxyContin, morphine, and fentanyl are to be “reserved for use in patients who do not have other treatment options” and for management of pain that is so severe it requires round-the-clock treatment.  Now the labels state that the medication is for “moderate to severe pain.”

The Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing group sent a petition to the FDA that got the ball rolling. They also wanted the FDA to define limits on the duration of use and dosage of these pain medications.

In addition, the FDA directed drug manufacturers to conduct studies on the long-term risks and effectiveness of the medications. An assistant professor of anesthesia interviewed for the article said that this was a major advance; he had little hope that the labeling changes would make much of a difference. I haven’t had opioids in years—probably not since a hip replacement four years ago if even then—but I can’t wait to see the new labels.



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