Sweeping changes in doctors’ pain medication prescription practices and health policy, in general, would be necessary to tackle the growing opioid epidemic in the country.

This is what a panel of scientific experts advised the federal government in the fight against opioid overdose and abuse.

Report Recommendations

An FDA-commissioned panel of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine outlined in a new report the steps needed to not create more opiate addicts anymore and prevent current opioid users from getting led toward fentanyl, heroin, and other street drugs.

“The broad reach of the epidemic has blurred the formerly distinct social boundary between prescribed opioids and illegally manufactured ones, such as heroin,” said committee chair Richard J. Bonnie, medicine and law professor and director of University of Virginia’s Institute of Law, Psychiatry, and Public Policy in a statement.

As of 2015, at least 2 million Americans are addicted to prescribed opioids, and nearly 600,000 have addiction problems involving heroin. Around 90 people a day die from opioid overdose.

In general, opioid prescriptions dropped 18 percent from 2010 to 2015, but there is hardly any reason to celebrate when the number of prescriptions in 2015 was three times higher than in 1999.

The panel recommended mandating pain-related education for all physicians who deal with "pain patients" and train all health care providers in counseling those at risk for opioid overdose or addiction.

To decrease harm to opioid users who have turned to street drugs, the panel also seeks to stop escalating criminal penalties for illicit-drug related activities, but instead have states adopt practices such as needle exchanges, safe places for injection-drug users, and greater access to opioid-reversing agent naloxone.

The FDA And Other Experts

The report, requested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) itself, also proposed that the FDA assess opioid drug safety not just to patients but also to whole families and communities surrounding them. New opioid formulations should meet such higher standard, where manufacturers are required to conduct extensive studies of drug use post-FDA approval.

The FDA should also reevaluate safety one, four, as well as six years after the drugs entered the market.

“But to make a meaningful impact, this epidemic must be addressed as a public health emergency, and requires an all-of-the-above approach,” said FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb in a statement on the newly released report.

Updates on opioids, according to panel member Dr. Aaron S. Kesselheim, shouldn’t come from the drug makers themselves, given their traditional role of “detailing” health care providers on proper use of the medications.

“[W]e need to think about ways to ensure that educational practices are done independent of manufacturers,” Kesselheim emphasized.

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