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Is Painkiller Education on the Horizon?

It was recently reported that toxicology tests for Prince concluded that the entertainer died from an accidental overdose of the opioid fentanyl, according to a report on his death by the Midwest Medical Examiner's Office.

High profile celebrities who are impacted by opioids bring focus to a national epidemic of addiction and abuse.  Just how significant is the opioid epidemic?  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • From 2000 to 2014 nearly half a million people died from drug overdoses
  • 78 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose
  • Since 1999 opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled
  • Deaths from prescription opioids—drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone—have also quadrupled since 1999

Federal health experts propose painkiller education

To help combat the opioid epidemic, a panel of Federal health experts recently proposed that doctors who prescribe painkillers should be required to undergo training at reducing misuse of medications.  According to a recent report a group of adviser s to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) "voted unanimously" that the agency should change its risk-management programs for opioid painkillers.  Specifically, the risk plans should apply to all prescription painkillers, including immediate-release drugs like Vicodin and Percocet.  The current measures only apply to long acting drugs like OxyContin.

Opposing view  

Both the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) have opposed mandatory training on painkiller education.   Instead, the AMA and AAFP would like to see a voluntary approach to physician education and training that is specific for specialties and patient populations.

Perhaps this opposition is best expressed by Dr. Patrice Harris, chair-elect of the AMA and chair of its Task Force to Reduce Opioid Abuse, when she said "linking mandatory training on opioids to the DEA registration process raises legitimate questions of how to best ensure the competency of physicians and other prescribers, what are possible unintended consequences for patients and their physicians, and what is the appropriate role of the federal government in this process."

Is painkiller education on the horizon?

While the FDA is not required to follow recommendations by the expert panel, with the increased focus on a national epidemic of painkiller addiction and abuse, and the Obama administration considering the recommendations to mandate training for providers who prescribe painkillers – congressional action may be next – and painkiller education could be on the horizon.

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