But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?

  • by: |
  • 08/13/2014

As seen in The Hill.

Wanted: Better fact checkers at Consumer Reports

The national public debate over the misuse and abuse of opioid pain medicines has been in the news long enough now for state and federal lawmakers and regulators at the Food and Drug Administration to focus on the real issues rather than the tabloid headlines.

That’s why the latest story on the subject from Consumers Report is so puzzling. Not only is it a day late and a dollar short, but it reaches all the wrong conclusions – providing a distinct disservice to its readers.

The CR cover featuring the story screams, “Deadly Pain Pills!” But the only thing deadly is the reporting which is both hyperbolic and filled with obvious errors and selective omissions.

Specifically, CR has the pain medicine Zohydro ER in its crosshairs. The article calls on the FDA to reconsider its 2013 approval of Zohydro ER and to make acetaminophen standards consistent.

Strangely the piece fails to mention that one of the benefits of Zohydro ER is that it is acetaminophen-free. It also neglects to mention that this very concern was specifically addressed by FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg who testified before Congress that,  “We recognize that this is a powerful drug, but we also believe that if appropriately used, it serves an important and unique niche with respect to pain medication and it meets the standards for safety and efficacy.”

The investigative tigers at CR call for the FDA to approve only opioids that are “abuse deterrent.” Well, here’s what the FDA commissioner had to say on that subject (also in open public testimony that the CR story either missed or chose to ignore), “It doesn’t do any good to label something as abuse deterrent if it isn’t actually abuse deterrent, and right now, unfortunately, the technology is poor.”

Surprisingly absent from the CR story was any mention of the most promising of the FDA’s initiatives on abuse deterrence; a study (to be conducted by the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Technology and Education) to evaluate opioid product formulations and performance characteristics for solid and oral dosages. 

Unfortunately complex systems make for bad media coverage, while simplistic, dramatic demagoguing makes for sexier headlines.


CR also believes another reason Zohydro ER should be recalled by the FDA is that it was approved, “against the recommendation of its own panel of expert advisers.” That’s true – but it’s not the whole truth.  What the CR authors left out is that, by a vote of 11-2, the experts affirmed that there was no evidence to suggest Zohydro had greater abuse or addiction potential than any other opioid.

“Facts,” as John Adams said, “are pesky things.”

What the newshounds at CR missed completely are the issues surrounding opioid misuse – at present the poor public health stepchild of abuse. In the United States, the use of opioids as first-line treatment for chronic pain conditions doesn’t follow either label indications or guideline recommendations.

In fact, 52 percent of patients diagnosed with osteoarthritis receive an opioid pain medicine from their doctors as first-line treatment as do 43 percent of patients diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and 42 percent of patients with diabetic peripheral neuropathy.

Payers in the healthcare system often impose barriers to the use of branded, on-label non-opioid pain medicines, relegating these treatments to second line options. The result is a gateway to abuse and addiction with opioids.

Another fact conveniently missed in the CR story is that the vast majority of people who use opioids do so legally and safely. A subset, approximately four percent of patients, use these medications illegally. In fact, from 2010 to 2011, the number of Americans misusing and abusing opioid medications declined from 4.6  to 4.2 percent.

How strange that Consumer Reports missed so many facts after all this time.


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.

Blog Roll

Alliance for Patient Access Alternative Health Practice
Better Health
Biotech Blog
CA Medicine man
Cafe Pharma
Campaign for Modern Medicines
Carlat Psychiatry Blog
Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry: A Closer Look
Conservative's Forum
Club For Growth
Diabetes Mine
Disruptive Women
Doctors For Patient Care
Dr. Gov
Drug Channels
DTC Perspectives
Envisioning 2.0
FDA Law Blog
Fierce Pharma
Fresh Air Fund
Furious Seasons
Gel Health News
Hands Off My Health
Health Business Blog
Health Care BS
Health Care for All
Healthy Skepticism
Hooked: Ethics, Medicine, and Pharma
Hugh Hewitt
In the Pipeline
In Vivo
Internet Drug News
Jaz'd Healthcare
Jaz'd Pharmaceutical Industry
Jim Edwards' NRx
Kaus Files
Laffer Health Care Report
Little Green Footballs
Med Buzz
Media Research Center
More than Medicine
National Review
Neuroethics & Law
Nurses For Reform
Nurses For Reform Blog
Opinion Journal
Orange Book
Peter Rost
Pharm Aid
Pharma Blog Review
Pharma Blogsphere
Pharma Marketing Blog
Pharmacology Corner
Pharmaceutical Business Review
Piper Report
Prescription for a Cure
Public Plan Facts
Real Clear Politics
Shark Report
Shearlings Got Plowed
Taking Back America
Terra Sigillata
The Cycle
The Catalyst
The Lonely Conservative
Town Hall
Washington Monthly
World of DTC Marketing
WSJ Health Blog