Why the FDA’s Prescription Drug Abuse Plan is Not Helpful to Addicts

In Drug Addiction October 27th, 2014 No Comments

Abuse of prescription drugs is a growing problem that affects millions of people in the U.S.  According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 2.4 million people in the U.S. have used prescription drugs for a non-medical purpose for the first time every year. Because these drugs are given out by a doctor, many people may falsely believe they provide a “safer high” then illegal street drugs. 

However, the truth is that, outside of the bounds of strictly regulated doses under careful medical supervision, opioid painkillers and other prescription drugs can be very dangerous. There is urgent need for greater education about the dangers of misusing prescription drugs.  Aware of these issues the Federal Drug Administration (F.D.A.), a government agency that regulates drugs and approves their use has created a new series of guidelines to attempt to reduce the risks of abuse.

The REMS Plan

This new FDA program, designed to reduce prescription drug misuse is called the Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy, or REMS.  The program affects extended release and long acting opioids that are among the most commonly misused drugs, including OxyContin, Avinza, and Dolophine.  While these drugs were normally prescribed only for extremely chronic and terminal pain, their use as proliferated in less serious conditions, despite the danger that dependence can develop.

The REMS plan centered around education, especially giving doctors more information about pain management, screening for addiction, and helping patients have the information they need to use these drugs safely.  REMS also provides increased funding for prescription monitoring programs, and take back programs so people can safely get rid of pills they don’t need any more.  It is requiring the manufactures of drugs to help fund these programs, so they can be made available to doctors at low cost.

REMS Plan Does Nothing to Prevent Addiction

Although this new plan is definitely a step in the right direction, there is some concern that it does not go far enough, given how many people are affected by prescription drug addiction.  Education of both doctors and patients can do a lot of good in helping people better understand the dangers of these drugs and the guidelines by which they can be used responsibly.

The biggest problem with these new programs is that they are optional for doctors. The American Medical Association, the largest group of doctors, went against the recommendations of the 2010 FDA panel and got the law changed, arguing it would be overly burdensome and may prevent doctors from being able to treat pain patients.

What The Numbers Say

There are 320,000 prescribers in the U.S., and this new program does nothing to force a change in their behavior, it only makes education available that can easily be ignored. The truth is that drug addiction is, by definition an activity surrounded by secrecy and denial. Addicts are already expert at hiding their true intentions and deceiving doctors into getting more pills. 

This program is designed to better control the use of these drugs by people taking them under medical supervision, but does not really address those who are already knowingly using the drugs outside recommended guidelines.

Furthermore, it focuses attention on a limited selection of substances, opioid painkillers, not directly addressing other drugs with potential for abuse, like stimulants and sedatives.  But it is hoped that this law can be an encouraging beginning, and led at least some doctors to think about using opioids more carefully. It is a step in the right direction, but more and different work needs to be done to truly deal with the problems of abuse and addiction.


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