Government agencies draft plan to curb opioid abuse

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is looking to curb the growing national epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse, according to a plan unveiled Tuesday.

Elements of the plan include expansion of state-based prescription drug monitoring programs, recommendation of convenient and environmentally responsible drug-disposal methods, education and reduction of doctor shopping.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, more than 33 million Americans ages 12 years and older have misused long-acting and extended-release opioids, and opioids were involved in nearly 50,000 emergency room visits in 2006. Opioids include such drugs as oxycodone, hydromorphone and morphine.

“The toll our nation’s prescription drug abuse epidemic has taken in communities nationwide is devastating,” White House Office of National Drug Control Policy director Gil Kerlikowske said. “We share a responsibility to protect our communities from the damage done by prescription drug abuse.”

Added FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg, “Opioid drugs have benefit when used properly and are a necessary component of pain management for certain patients, but we know that they pose serious risks when used improperly — with serious negative consequences for individuals, families and communities.”

As part of the plan, the FDA is announcing a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy for all extended-release opioids focused on educating doctors about proper pain management, patient selection and other requirements. Companies that make opioids must propose a REMS plan within 120 days, and doctor training, patient counseling and other risk-reduction measures developed are expected to become effective by early next year.