Latest U.S. Measures to Control Opioid Abuse far from Foolproof

Opioids account for close to 15,000 deaths by overdose in a single year in the United States (2008). In an effort to combat this, U.S. doctors are being asked to attend a course on proper dispensing of opioids. But attendance is optional. Will this help the opioid epidemic?

Latest U.S. Measures to Control Opioid Abuse far from Foolproof

Numerous headlines, increased awareness, and a growing number of tragic suicides have no doubt contributed to recent measures taken by the United States government in curbing prescription painkiller abuse. In an effort to reduce addiction, the new regulations, passed by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), mandate new strategies for risk evaluation and mitigation of prolonged-release opioids. The strategies focus both on prescribing doctors and their patients.

Opioids account for close to 15,000 deaths by overdose in a single year in the United States (2008). In fact, opioid overdoses account for more fatalities than cocaine and heroin. As a result, their correct usage is an increasingly urgent concern of regulatory bodies in the United States and worldwide.

Unfortunately, many doctors have had little specialised training in the risks of addiction, overdose, and death that accompany the medications. During medical school, medical doctors do receive training, but it may have occurred many years ago and therefore could not possibly take into account the developments in  medication, and changes in patterns of addiction. To rectify the situation special educational courses are now available to these medical practioners.

It is hoped that these courses will provide doctors with appropriate training about the risks of opioid use, and in so doing reduce abuse of the drugs. However, according to recent news stories, some cases have been reported in which doctors appear to prescribe opioid medication to make a profit. Separate legislation has been passed, and is still needed, to address the issue of doctors who knowingly supply the addictive painkillers.

Of concern is the fact that the educational courses are voluntary, not mandatory. So, while the new educational courses may help some doctors to provide safer prescriptions, other doctors who are not aware of the risks of addiction, or who disregard them, may not benefit from the courses.

While efforts at education for the prescribers of opioids gain momentum, there is a simultaneous drive to educate patients on correct opioid use. New guidelines for patients are being distributed, including the proper use, dangers, and disposal of opioids. But while these guidelines may educate the original receiver of the drugs, there are situations in which such material may not be effective. For example, some patients who receive prescription drugs do so with the intention of selling or using them for recreational use.

The new measures the FDA has taken are a step in the right direction, but will likely fall short in making significant changes in the way prescription drugs are abused. Addiction to opioids or other substances is a disease, and those who suffer from it require treatment, education, and sobriety.

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