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New Federal Bill Targets Rx Pill Abuse

A bill introduced today would require drug companies to adopt safeguards, like making pills more difficult to crush.

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By Chrisanne Grise

07/19/12

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With the rate of Rx overdose deaths quadrupling in the last decade, the US federal government is mobilizing its best line of defense against a rising surge of painkiller abuse. Today, House lawmakers will introduce legislation that would require most pain drugs to adopt safeguards to deter abuse, such as making the pills more difficult to crush or inject. Rep. Bill Keating, lead sponsor of the bipartisan bill, says Congress considers painkiller abuse to be a "major public health epidemic," and any products that fail to meet these new safety features would be removed from the FDA’s list of approved generic drugs.

While Keating says the bill has "broad support" in the House, there are some concerns that it could do more harm than good. "The proposed legislation would be detrimental to patients and could potentially remove FDA-approved safe and effective generic medicines from those who rely on them," says Ralph G. Neas, president of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, an industry trade group. "Addressing prescription-drug abuse is of utmost importance to the generic pharmaceutical industry. Policy makers should let the medical evidence guide actions in addressing this critical issue." Recently, only a few drug brands have made tamper-resistant formulations, with mixed results; when OxyContin became harder to crush, its sales dropped in many locations, which seemed to suggest that the safeguards were working. However, many OxyContin users simply switched to crushable Opana or even heroin. Whatever happens, the abuse-deterrent formulations are generally priced the same, and there is no difference in medication quality, so patients taking the drugs as prescribed should notice no real difference if the drug companies do adopt these safeguards.

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