Can Opioid Painkiller Training for Doctors Stem Abuse?

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Just 2 weeks after Prince apparently died of a painkiller overdose, an FDA advisory panel has voted unanimously to require physicians that prescribe opioid drugs to undergo mandatory training aimed at curbing its misuse.

While the training courses were made available four years ago to doctors, it is only voluntarily. And statistics shows that fewer than half of the medical professionals targeted to get the training have done so.

During a two-day, joint meeting of the Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committee and the Anesthetic and Analgesic Drug Products Advisory Committee, members seemed to agree that to quell the growing problem of painkiller abuse, a stronger response is needed.

“If we keep it voluntary we’re never going to get many people trained,” said panelist Michael Fry, a pharmacist based in Oregon. Some members voiced the opinion that doctors should be taught to use opioid medication less frequently.

Others thought it was unclear if, in fact, inappropriate prescribing is at the root of the abuse or whether it stems from people getting opioids through underground means.

“The data does not give us a clear indication of whether we are reaching the target population for the crisis we are trying to resolve,” Joseph O’Brien, a patient representative at the meeting, said.

Actually getting physicians educated also poses a problem, albeit, a logistical one. About 1.5 million prescribers would need to get the training, which takes several hours to complete.

The training itself is based on information provided by the FDA and is given by medical education companies. It is funded by drug companies that manufacture long-acting opioids, including Johnson & Johnson, Endo and Purdue, the seller of OxyContin.

Risk management plans associated with opioids to discourage misuse that are already in place only cover long-acting opioids, such as OxyContin, which is designed to release medication slowly once ingested. However, the panel members also voted that these plans should also apply to shorter-acting opioids, such as Percocet and Vicodin.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that as many as 19,000 Americans annually die as a result of painkiller abuse, a figure that has been increasing for nearly two decades.

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