National strategy to reduce opioid epidemic, an urgent public health priority

Years of sustained and coordinated efforts will be required to contain and reverse the harmful societal effects of the prescription and illicit opioid epidemics, which are intertwined and getting worse, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The report, requested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), says it is possible to stem the still-escalating prevalence of opioid use disorder and other opioid-related harms without foreclosing access to opioids for patients suffering from pain whose providers have prescribed these drugs responsibly. The committee that conducted the study and wrote the report recommended actions the FDA, other federal agencies, state and local governments, and health-related organizations should take — which include promoting more judicious prescribing of opioids, expanding access to treatment for opioid use disorder, preventing more overdose deaths, weighing societal impacts in opioid-related regulatory decisions, and investing in research to better understand the nature of pain and develop non-addictive alternatives.

“The broad reach of the epidemic has blurred the formerly distinct social boundary between prescribed opioids and illegally manufactured ones, such as heroin,” said committee chair Richard J. Bonnie, Harrison Foundation Professor of Medicine and Law and director of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry, and Public Policy at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. “This report provides an action plan directed particularly at the health professions and government agencies responsible for regulating them. This plan aims to help the millions of people who suffer from chronic pain while reducing unnecessary opioid prescribing. We also wanted to convey a clear message about the magnitude of the challenge. This epidemic took nearly two decades to develop, and it will take years to unravel.”

Full story of national strategy to reduce the opioid epidemic at Science Daily

Number of Children and Teens Hospitalized for Opioid Overdoses Almost Tripled

A new study finds the number of young children and teens hospitalized for opioid painkiller overdoses has almost tripled in recent years.

Opioid overdoses increased 205 percent from 1997 to 2012 among children ages 1 to 4, HealthDay reports. Among teens ages 15 to 19, overdoses increased 176 percent.

Full story of children and teen opioid overdoses tripled at drugfree.org

Increased Risk of Suicide Attempts in Teens Linked to Abuse of Prescription Drugs

A new study finds an increased risk of suicide attempts in teens is associated with prescription drug abuse, Reuters reports. Teens who said they used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes at the start of the study were almost three times as likely to report a suicide attempt a year later.

The study of 3,300 Chinese teens is published in JAMA Pediatrics. The researchers found teens’ suicide risk was more than tripled if they abused opiates.

Full story of suicide risks in teens with prescription drug abuse at drugfree.org

Senate Bill Would Require Doctors to Use Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs

Three U.S. senators have introduced a bill that would require doctors to use prescription drug monitoring programs before they prescribe painkillers. The Prescription Drug Monitoring Act is co-sponsored by Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Angus King of Maine.

Minnesota is one of the states in which doctors’ participation in prescription drug monitoring is voluntary. At a news conference Tuesday, Klobuchar said if such programs are not mandatory, some doctors who excessively prescribe opioids can go undetected, theStar Tribune reported.

Full story of Senate bill for doctors to use prescription drug monitoring programs at drugfree.org

Two Former Drug Salesmen Arrested for Allegedly Paying Doctors to Prescribe Fentanyl

Two former drug salesmen were arrested last week for allegedly paying physicians to prescribe fentanyl, USA Today reports. Fentanyl has received heavy scrutiny after it was announced Prince died from an accidental overdose of the drug.

Fentanyl, a powerful opioid, can be up to 100 times more potent than morphine, the article notes.

The salesmen worked for Insys Therapeutics, which makes Subsys, a fast-acting form of fentanyl that is sprayed under the tongue. Subsys provides pain relief in as little as five minutes. In contrast, fentanyl patches provide a slow, continuous dose of painkiller.

According to the complaint, the salesmen paid two New York-area doctors $259,000 in kickbacks in 2014. Court documents say the doctors wrote more than $6 million worth of prescriptions for Subsys that year—more than all but a few physicians in the country. The complaint states that a manager for the company allegedly knew about the scheme, and told sales staff to demand that doctors prescribe large quantities of fentanyl in exchange for the payments.

Full story of drug salesman arrested prescribing Fentanyl at drugfree.org