Consider Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes' op-ed on opioid abuse (A smart way to counter prescription drug deaths). There are a few things that need to be added – and amended.
The vast majority of patients using non-abuse deterrent opioids do so safely and as directed. A subset, approximately four percent, abuse. And government statistics show that 78.5% of those who abuse prescription pain medication did not obtain the drugs from a physician in the first place.
Should non-abuse deterrent opioids ultimately disappear from the marketplace? Absolutely. But removing an entire category of generic products when there are no generic abuse deterrent alternatives not only does eradicate the abuse and addiction problem (since even abuse deterrent opioids can be abused) but punishes the millions of Americans who need opioids to address their chronic pain. Insurance companies are not ready to regularly reimburse for new, abuse deterrent formulations – despite steep discounting by manufacturers. The numbers are staggering -- 240,120,330 non-ADF generic opioids were prescribed in 2015 (nearly a quarter of a billion tablets) versus 5,068,398 branded opioids with ADF properties.
Further, payers often implement barriers to the use of branded, on-label non-opioid medicines, relegating these treatments to second line options. 52% of patients diagnosed with osteoarthritis receive an opioid pain medicine as first line treatment as do 43% of patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia and 42% of patients with diabetic peripheral neuropathy even though there are FDA-approved, non-opioid medicines specifically designed and labeled to treat these conditions.
Payers should step up to the public health plate and do the right thing right now.
Should the FDA, as General Reyes suggests, “… commit to following recommendations made by its advisory committees?” No. That is not the role they play. FDA Advisory Committees advise. It is (and should remain) up to the experts at the FDA to make the final decision. Ultimate responsibility must always reside with the regulator. (The FDA advisory committee that reviewed the controversial opioid Zohydro voted 11-2 that there was no evidence to suggest it had greater abuse or addiction potential than any other opioid.)
Most importantly, a smart public health strategy would be a robust effort to better educate physicians on appropriate prescribing – something the FDA has been calling for regularly. Today the agency announced it will require short-acting opioid pain medications to carry a boxed warning about the serious risks of misuse, abuse, addiction, overdose and death. It’s a good next step.