Last week, President Barack Obama released a survey on prescription drug abuse that called for new measures in prevention, including enlisting pharmaceutical companies to train doctors on prescribing practices for narcotic drugs.
This call for action comes a couple of years too late – after all, the prescription drug abuse epidemic has been raging since the late 1990s. Nevertheless, it’s nice to see a real attempt by the White House to address the growing problem of prescription drug abuse.
First, the good news: the major goal of the plan is to cut the abuse rate by 15 percent by the year 2015 through doctor and patient education. The plan also proposes a strategy to increase state-run prescription drug monitoring programs, which are currently active in 35 states.
Prescription monitoring systems provide an online database for pharmacists and doctors to research patients’ past and current prescriptions – an effective tool to prevent doctor shopping. However, most databases are limited to information within a single state and are not mandatory for drug prescribers to check when writing or filling a prescription.
According to this article from MedPage Today, White House officials report new legislation will be introduced in Congress that would require physicians to undergo additional training to write prescriptions for extended-release narcotics. The major downfall of this bill: the training would be provided by drug companies such as OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma.
Forgive us for pointing out the obvious, but is it wise to hand over doctor education aimed at prevention to the very companies who profit from the epidemic?
Also part of the plan, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will enact a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS) that requires further training for doctors. However, unless the bill is enacted into law, the REMS training would not be mandatory – or even as rigorous as classes currently required to prescribe suboxone, an opioid addiction treatment drug.
Perhaps we’re just cynical, but these proposed measures seem like nothing more than an official acknowledgment of the epidemic without any teeth; half-step measures rather than real, beneficial actions. If it were up to Watchdog, pharmaceutical companies would be held just as liable for drug abuse as the Nevada doctor recently charged of murder for his patient’s overdose death.
And we’re not alone. According to Pete Jackson, who heads up Advocates for the Reform of Prescription Opioids, even the White House’s 15 percent reduction goal is inadequate given the scope of the problem and the oversupply of prescription opioids.
“The Administration has the ability to attack this epidemic head-on by going after the very loose prescribing indications for the opioids,” said Jackson in a recent e-mail correspondence with Watchdog. “Instead, they are asking the drug companies that make and sell these drugs for profit to develop training curricula for doctors. This weak drug plan is simply not aggressive enough to achieve any meaningful reduction to a problem which the Administration calls an ‘epidemic.’”
Watchdog’s take: rather than moving forward with legislation that would validate Big Pharma’s vested interest in keeping people hooked on prescription drugs, the White House ought to go back to the drawing board to create effective, lasting measures against pill abuse. Granted, that’s no small task, but there’s something fishy about Purdue doling out tips on best practices for prescribing OxyContin. With billions of dollars a year in sales at stake, is it really reasonable to expect the company will be pushing for a more cautious prescribing approach?
As if pharmaceutical companies like Purdue didn’t already have a vice hold on the market, now they have the government’s seal of approval.