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The FDA’s Move to Combat Prescription Drug Abuse: Educating Patients and Physicians

Posted Apr 28 2011 11:15pm

Image by Martine Bijl (1981)

Image by Martine Bijl (1981)

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a new risk-reduction program this month to help curb abuse of prescription painkillers. The program, called the Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS), is targeted at manufacturers of long-acting and extended-release opioids. It requires that these manufacturers develop new medication guides for patients and educational materials for prescribing physicians. Each company has 120 days to submit materials to the FDA for review.

According to the FDA, the focus of the REMS plan is to educate doctors about proper pain management and patient selection, and to improve patient awareness about how to use these drugs safely. The medication guides for patients should include consumer friendly language that explains safe use and disposal. The drugs targeted by the REMS plan include oxycodone, methadone and morphine.

As the plan stands now, physicians are not required to review the educational materials. To help generate interest, the FDA plans to offer continuing education credits for physicians who receive the education. The ultimate goal is to make this training mandatory through congressional approval that would link the training to licensing for physicians who prescribe controlled substances.

The FDA hopes that REMS education will cut down the misuse of prescription painkillers without restricting access . There are an estimated one million emergency room visits a year as a result of prescription drug abuse, and the FDA estimates that more than 33 million Americans misused opioids during 2007. That same year, deaths from drug overdose were second only to motor vehicle crashes among leading causes of unintentional injury death in the U.S.

Encouraging safe disposal of medications is key. Over half of all nonmedical painkiller users get their pills “from a friend or relative for free.” Doctors have also been found to prescribe more doses of painkillers than patients actually use, and patients don’t always dispose of unused medications properly.

What can you do to help combat prescription drug abuse? The Drug Enforcement Administration is sponsoring the second National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day this Saturday. You can find a collection site near you by clicking here . Last year, more than 121 tons of prescription drugs were collected at nearly 4,100 locations. It’s a good reason to extend that spring cleaning to your medicine cabinet!

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