Prescription drug abuse in America has become an epidemic – the number of people in the USA abusing pain relievers aged 12 years plus rose by 20% between 2002 and 2009, according to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). The Obama administration would like pharmaceutical companies to develop education programs for prescribers about the safe use of opioids.

Authorities in the USA say that prescription drug abuse is the country’s fastest-growing drug problem. More people accidentally overdose on prescription drugs today than the combined total in the 1980s during the crack cocaine epidemic, plus the black tar heroin epidemic in the 1970s.

The “Obama’s Administration’s comprehensive action plan”, titled Epidemic: Responding to America’s Prescription Drug Abuse Crisis was released by Gil Kerlikowske, White House Director of National Drug Control Policy; Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services, Howard Koh, M.D.; Food and Drug Administration Commissioner, Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.; and DEA Administrator, Michele M. Leonhart.

The Administration says its aim is to tackle the nationwide prescription drug abuse epidemic, which includes new Federal requirements to train the medical community regarding proper prescribing practices.

About 27,000 people died from accidental drug overdoses in 2007, the majority of them from prescription drugs.

In a communiqué, the Administration wrote:

(the action plan) “. . . provides a national framework for reducing prescription drug diversion and abuse by supporting the expansion of state-based prescription drug monitoring programs, recommending more convenient and environmentally responsible disposal methods to remove unused medications from the home, supporting education for patients and healthcare providers, and reducing the prevalence of pill mills and doctor shopping through enforcement efforts.”

The plan was created after close cooperation between the Departments of Justice, the Federal government, Veterans Affairs, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), the Department of Defense, Health and Human Services, and others.

This is a new program created by the FDA that will force makers of long-acting and extended-release opioids to set up educational programs to doctors who prescribe these drugs. There should also be materials to help prescribers when they counsel their patients about the pros and cons of using opioids. The FDA is authorized, thanks to the Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act of 2007, to make drug makers develop and implement a REMS to ensure the benefits of a medication or biological product outweigh its risks.

Vice President Biden, said:

“Today we are making an unprecedented commitment to combat the growing problem of prescription drug abuse. The Government, as well as parents, patients, health care providers, and manufacturers all play a role in preventing abuse. This plan will save lives, and it will substantially lessen the burden this epidemic takes on our families, communities, and workforce.”

Gil Kerlikowske said:

“The toll our Nation’s prescription drug abuse epidemic has taken in communities nationwide is devastating. We share a responsibility to protect our communities from the damage done by prescription drug abuse. This plan will build upon our already unprecedented efforts to coordinate a national response to this public health crisis by addressing the threat at the Federal, state, and local level.”

Howard K. Koh, M.D., M.P.H. Assistant Secretary for Health, said:

“Abuse of prescription drugs, especially opioids, represents an alarming public health crisis. This Plan, which coordinates a public health approach with a public safety approach, offers hope and health to our Nation.”

CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said:

“Unintentional drug overdose is a growing epidemic in the US and is now the leading cause of injury death in 17 states. There are effective and emerging strategies out there to address this problem. Support for this action plan will help us implement those strategies which will go a long way to save lives and reduce the tremendous burden this problem has on our healthcare system and our society.”

FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., said:

“Long-acting and extended-release opioid drugs have benefit when used properly and are a necessary component of pain management for certain patients, but we know that they pose serious risks when used improperly, with serious negative consequences for individuals, families, and communities. The prescriber education component of this Opioid REMS balances the need for continued access to these medications with stronger measures to reduce their risks.”

DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart, said:

“DEA is committed to implementing this important and much needed action plan to reduce the demand for prescription drugs, enforce our nation’s drug laws, and take back unneeded prescription drugs. When abused, prescription drugs are just as dangerous and just as addictive as drugs like methamphetamine or heroin. The more we can do to stop the abuse of prescription drugs, the more effective we will be in reducing the death, destruction and despair that accompanies all drug abuse.”

Over the last five years the number of people going to hospital emergency rooms with problems linked to pharmaceutical medication misuse or abuse has doubled.

Opioids include substances such as codeine, oxycodone, methadone and morphine. They are a class of drugs that are typically prescribed for their painkilling (analgesic) properties. People may find some of the following brand names familiar – Kadian, Lomotil, Percocet, Vicodin, Demerol, Darvon, Percodan, OxyContin, and Avinza.

Opioids bind to opioid receptors – specific proteins in the brain, spinal cord and GI (gastrointestinal tract). They can block the brain’s ability to identify pain. They stimulate the brain’s pleasure centers, inducing euphoria – giving the patient a feeling of elation. Ongoing use of opioids can lead to dependence.

Epidemic: Responding to America’s Prescription Drug Abuse Crisis
Executive Office of the President of the United States

Written by Christian Nordqvist