FDA calls for action on painkiller abuse

Posted: July 11, 2012

Prescription painkillers have surpassed cocaine and heroin as the leading cause of death in drug overdoses, which is why the Food and Drug Administration said Monday that pharmaceutical companies must finance educational programs for doctors in hopes that greater knowledge will help curb the abuse.

The opioid painkillers, also known as narcotic or opioid analgesics, are a class of drugs that includes oxycodone, methadone and hydrocodone. More than 20 drugs companies make them, including Endo Health Solutions Inc., Pfizer, Inc. and Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., which have operations around Philadelphia. Endo, Pfizer and Janssen said Monday they support the FDA's move.

"Misprescribing, misuse, and abuse of extended-release and long-acting opioids are a critical and growing public health challenge," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a statement.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report late last year that said in 2010, 4.8 percent of the U.S. population 12 years of age and older had used opioid pain relievers "nonmedically," and it cost insurance companies up to $72.5 billion annually in health-care costs.

Senators Max Baucus (D., Mont.) and Charles Grassley (R., Iowa) have launched an investigation and the attorney general in West Virginia, which has a high rate of such overdoses, has sued 14 distributors for not keeping closer track of drugs shipped to doctors and pharmacies.

"Part of Endo's corporate mission is a commitment to educating physicians and patients about the appropriate and responsible use of pain management therapies," Endo Health Solutions said in a statement.

Pfizer said, in part, "Pfizer shares the concern about misuse and abuse of prescription opioid medications and recognizes that focusing on this critical problem is part of our responsibility to physicians, patients and society."

Doctors are not required to attend such meetings. The Obama Administration has endorsed a mandatory program, but it would require Congress to pass legislation authorizing it.

Contact David Sell at 215-854-4506 or dsell@phillynews.com or Twitter @PhillyPharma. Read his PhillyPharma blog on philly.com.

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