by Dr. Alan Inglis
I swear, sometimes I think if the FDA moved any slower, it would be going backwards. I told you earlier this week about the FDA finally getting around to establishing new testing guidelines for the blood thinner heparin, a year and a half after it was linked to hundreds of deaths.
Now, the organization charged with protecting our health has finally decided to do something about the abuse of prescription opioids, such as Vicodin and OxyContin. I don't know if anyone from the FDA has picked up a newspaper in the past several years, but abuse of these painkiller drugs has become rampant, and they're even being sold as street drugs.
To help curb the problem, the FDA says this March it will meet with officials from more than a dozen Big Pharma companies to work up some "risk-management plans." The goal will be to avoid hundreds of deaths caused every year by patients' misusing and doctors mis-prescribing opioids.
In very limited defense of the FDA, Congress only gave it the authority to order risk- management plans in 2007. Of course, there were plenty of other actions the FDA could have taken, particularly as it became evident that these highly addictive drugs were being widely abused.
Part of the problem is that doctors are prescribing these very serious drugs for conditions that don't call for them. For example, many doctors prescribe opioids for migraine headaches – problem is, opioids have never been approved for this use.
This over-prescribing is a big part of the reason that nearly 4 million Americans are currently taking an opioid drug. Many folks will become needlessly addicted to these drugs. Others will have their lives ended by opioids.
Hopefully, the FDA's meeting with Big Pharma will bear some fruit. There could even be public hearings later in the year. But I've been down this road too many times to have a ton of confidence that any real difference will be made.
In the meantime, there are things you can do to prevent opioid abuse. If you take one of these prescriptions, lock it up and never share it. Even better, look into some of the safer, natural alternatives for managing your pain.