By Thomas J. Foels
In a welcomed policy shift, the Food and Drug Administration recently recommended new restrictions on prescription medicines containing hydrocodone. This highly addictive painkiller has become the most prescribed medication in the United States. The move comes more than a decade after the Drug Enforcement Administration first requested the FDA reclassify hydrocodone, making it subject to the same restrictions as other narcotic drugs.
Federal elected officials are also taking action to help prevent these drugs from getting into the wrong hands. The Safe Prescribing Act, bipartisan legislation introduced last March, co-sponsored by New York Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, received widespread support in both legislative chambers. It was also endorsed by health plans, health care providers, addiction specialists, law enforcement, advocacy groups and victims.
New York was ahead of the curve when it enacted a new state law – the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing (I-STOP) in late August. It includes a first-in-the-nation requirement that physicians and health care providers consult a real-time database before prescribing powerful pain medications such as hydrocodone. This mandatory verification provision will improve safeguards for the distribution of specific prescription drugs that are prone to abuse and help guide development of medical education courses and public awareness measures regarding pain management and prescription drugs.
Roughly one-third of the American population experiences some form of chronic pain. Many receive inadequate pain assessment and treatment. Primary care and pain management physicians, and other providers, are challenged with treating and managing pain across a highly fragmented health care system. They have the essential responsibility of helping patients with pain achieve an improved quality of life while working to assure patients remain safe and as active as possible.
With that in mind, Independent Health Foundation will host its fifth annual continuing medical education program next month for physicians, health care providers and pharmacists, featuring an evidence-based, comprehensive clinical review on the effective, multidisciplinary management of chronic pain while simultaneously managing the risk of opioid abuse.
In addition, a major communitywide campaign – PainkillersKILL – is under way here and efforts by organizations such as Save the Michaels of the World are helping raise public awareness on the risks of prescription drug use.
We applaud the FDA on its action and hope momentum at the national level will continue to match the local effort to address this critical health issue.
Thomas J. Foels, M.D., is executive vice president and chief medical officer at Independent Health.