Substance abuse and addiction is a growing problem in the United States. In recent years, the abuse of prescription pain medications has becoming increasingly prevalent. The use of narcotic or opioid pain killers has more than tripled in the last decade. Overdoses from narcotic pain medication that results in death has now surpassed that from heroin and cocaine combined. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that there is one drug related death occurring every 14 minutes. The leading cause of accidental death has now become overdosage from prescription narcotic medications, surpassing that caused by motor vehicle accidents. The number of people seeking treatment for prescription drug addiction has increased by more than 400% since 1998. The medical profession as well as health regulatory agencies must do something to correct the prescription drug abuse epidemic.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now mandating pharmaceutical companies that sell long acting and extended release narcotic medications to finance a narcotic prescribing education program for physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. The program will be termed the Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS). In addition, patient educational pamphlets are required to be part of the program. Doctors are highly recommended to participate in the narcotic educational program, but are not required. Changing the current law would need to occur in order to make the program a requirement, and the FDA working with the White House and Congress will attempt to amend the law. The program is scheduled to begin in March of 2013 and it is expected that 60% of the nation’s 320,000 narcotic prescribers will participate.
This is a good first step in finding a solution to the opioid abuse epidemic. We must do more to combat this growing problem. Making the REMS program mandatory for all physicians should be the goal of the health regulatory bodies. Since the program will be a recommendation, and not a requirement, the compliance rate will likely be low. Thus, the impact on the growing narcotic abuse epidemic will not be as effective. We must all do our part in stemming the spread of narcotic abuse. Taking a two to three hour narcotic education course is a small thing to ask of our health care providers. The benefits that we may see from the program are worth the efforts that we will put into an educational program. Even if we are to save one life through the implementation of the program, it would be well worth the trouble. We must work together to stop the growing narcotic abuse epidemic in the United States.
Barry Meier “F.D.A. Won’t Order Doctors to Get Pain-Drug Training” New York Times July 9, 2012