Pain Politics

  • by: |
  • 04/24/2014

Many of the claims about Zohydro are incorrect, and efforts to trump FDA's approval threaten the integrity of science-based regulation, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in an interview with Steve Usdin of BioCentury This Week television. Edited excerpts follow.

BCTV: Why did FDA approve the drug?

Margaret Hamburg: I certainly understand the broader concerns that are motivating some of this in terms of the terrible public health burden of opiate addiction, abuse, misuse and overdose. But there is a need for adequate pain treatment of patients. And Zohydro, in fact, does represent an important pain medicine for people that respond better to hydrocodone - or if you need to rotate pain medicines because of chronic use - who don't want to be exposed to acetaminophen, which is a leading cause of liver toxicity, often even fatal liver toxicity.

And all of the other hydrocodone products currently in the marketplace are combined with acetaminophen.

BCTV: The governor of Massachusetts and several members of Congress have said Zohydro is superpotent and more addictive than other opioids.

MH: One of the common misperceptions is that this is the most potent opiate out there. And that simply isn't true. The second is that the other opiates out there have abuse deterrent formulations. And we wish that that were so. But in fact, almost without exception, the abuse deterrent claims of some of the products really don't hold water when tested.

And the one abuse deterrent formulation that has met the FDA criteria for labeling as abuse deterrent actually only provides deterrence against immediate injection or nasal intake - snorting. But it does not prevent oral abuse. And the majority of opiate overdose and abuse is through the oral route, not injection.

BCTV: Is there any deterrent now or even conceivable that's going to prevent somebody who's determined to abuse an opioid from doing that?

MH: Certainly not in terms of the formulation of the drug. There is nothing that can, at the present time, deter a determined abuser.

BCTV: Massachusetts and Vermont have tried to ban Zohydro. Other states are talking about it. What are the consequences of having states take that unprecedented action of overruling FDA approval?

MH: I do think that it's quite troubling. And I understand the motivation behind some of these actions in terms of the pressing need to reduce the burden of opiate addiction and preventable disease and death. But I think people should step back and really think very carefully about what it means for states or the Congress to start dictating what drugs should be approved and which ones should be withdrawn from the marketplace.

You can easily look at scenarios that are increasingly worrisome where, because of ideological beliefs or dislike for certain patient categories or other criteria, drugs that could make a difference in people's lives get banned.

BCTV: Some members of Congress have written to the HHS secretary and asked her to overrule FDA's decision. What happens if we have a political system where political appointees can overrule FDA on decisions that members of Congress don't like?

MH: I think it's very worrisome. FDA has a very carefully defined legal regulatory framework for our decision-making. Most importantly, we are driven by the science, and there is a set of scientific database standards for product review and approval. When individuals who have very different backgrounds and are in the political environment, not the scientific environment, start making the decisions for the public, you can end up in some very worrisome places.

The full video interview is available at


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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