U.S. to take steps to tackle the opioid crisis – will U.K. follow suit on medication problems?

opioid drug deaths

The U.S. has reportedly acknowledged the problem of quadrupling opioid-related deaths, as well as the fact they now account for the majority of fatal overdoses. It’s been declared as a national public health emergency.

Various federal institutions are to be involved in taking measures to combat the problem. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will require pharmaceutical drug companies that make prescription opioids to “provide more training to prescriber’s”.

As Britain faces its own battles with the overuse of prescription medication – including opioids – will we see similar action here?

In June, the FDA made the call to take opioid Opana off the shelves after the drug was found to apparently cause “rampant” abuse. Since then, the FDA has been considering banning all drugs that contain Opana’s active ingredient, oxymorphone. The powerful substance reportedly carries a huge risk of addiction, abuse and misuse.

Law enforcement in the U.S. are targetting illegal imports of Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is a 100-times stronger than morphine.

Several drug companies are actually being sued for allegedly contributing to the opioid crisis the U.S. is currently embroiled in. Pharmaceutical companies being sued include big-name brands like Purdue Pharma L.P; Johnson & Johnson; Allergan PLC; and Watson Pharmaceuticals. Many of the pharmaceutical companies involved also operate in the U.K., and provide opioids for our prescriptions.

Purdue pharmaceuticals has been continually scrutinised over the way they market and sell their chronic pain relief, OxyContin. In 2007, the firm paid a $600 million fine and three of its executives were found guilty of criminal charges for mislabelling the drug. In 2012, the U.S New England Journal of Medicine found that, “76% of those seeking help for heroin addiction began by abusing pharmaceutical narcotics, primarily OxyContin.” The study also made reference to the positive correlation between Purdue’s marketing of the drug and heroin abuse.

Manufacturers must release information relating to the effects of the drugs they make. The risks of addiction and overdose are vital for doctors and patients in the assessment of whether or not it is appropriate to treat their problem with such medication, as well as how much should be prescribed. Drug companies spend millions of pounds marketing their drugs, with some accused of pushing the benefits and glazing over the risks. Doctors may not be receiving enough information about the risks and may be over-prescribing powerful drugs that push patients down a slippery slope of addition.

A member of JAMA’s editorial board, Thomas R. Frieden, warned:

“…these are dangerous drugs. They kill people. And we should use them very sparingly and carefully.”

Formerly a director of the U.S. Centers for disease Control and Prevention, Frieden said that a single 80mg oxycodone pill taken twice a day far exceeds the amount “associated with a greatly increased risk of death.”

We Brits must watch our American cousins closely on this issue. We must not be allowed our own crisis as bad as the one the U.S. has acknowledged…

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