FDA Rethinks Painkiller Training Requirement For Doctors

By John Lavitt 05/04/16

Requiring doctors to complete safety training could positively impact the opiate epidemic but will the FDA make the right decision?

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FDA Rethinks Painkiller Training Requirement For Doctors
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Should physicians who prescribe painkillers be required to undergo safety training? That's the question being considered by the Food and Drug Administration—whether to mandate safety training on doctors who prescribe drugs like OxyContin and Percocet, in order to reduce the misuse of powerful opioid painkillers that are at the heart of the national epidemic of addiction and overdose.

The FDA review was motivated by a disclosure by federal regulators that the number of doctors that do receive safety training is less than half the amount targeted by the agency. This week, a panel of FDA advisers will recommend whether or not to move forward, AP reports. The panel will review current risk-management programs established four years ago to decrease painkiller abuse. Under the current risk-management programs, safety training is voluntary, and funded by drug makers to train physicians on how to safely prescribe their drugs. But the current policy doesn't go far enough, say experts, including FDA officials. They say safety training on opioid prescribing should be mandatory for all physicians. 

According to FDA data, 37,500 physicians had completed the voluntary training programs by March 2015—less than half its target of 80,000. Additionally, drug maker surveys showed that 40% of prescribers were unaware of the programs more than half a year after they launched. The FDA claims its own findings "show mixed results that make it difficult to draw conclusions regarding the success of the program."

Current FDA policies regarding opioid safety have been limited in the past by pushback from pharmaceutical companies, who have argued that imposing additional safety requirements would be too burdensome for doctors, and result in the undertreatment of patients. Current FDA policies apply only to long-acting painkillers like OxyContin and Opana, but not opioid drugs like Vicodin and Percocet, which are also widely abused.

Although the panel's recommendation is not binding, hopefully the FDA will listen to its own experts. Given the new federal prescribing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state laws that restrict and track opioid prescribing, the federal government continues to move in the direction of greater safety and prevention. 

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.