California Healthline Daily Edition

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

GOP, Experts Call for Stricter Regulations on Prescription Pain Drugs

Some Republican lawmakers are urging the federal government to adopt tougher restrictions on painkiller medications to curb widespread prescription drug misuse, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Pecquet, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 4/20).

Misuse of drugs such as OxyContin, fentanyl, hydromorphone and methadone has reached what experts say are "epidemic" levels over the previous decade. In addition, some experts say that legitimate use of the drugs also can be risky in some cases (Meier/Goodnough, New York Times, 4/19).

On Tuesday, the Obama administration announced that it will seek legislation that would require physicians to participate in training before dispensing such medications (California Healthline, 4/20).

In addition, the federal government on Tuesday released a plan requiring that manufacturers of painkillers provide training to physicians who seek it and that drugmakers and prescribers educate patients about the risks of such drugs.

Lawmaker Pushback on Plans

However, some Republicans believe regulations should make it more difficult for physicians to prescribe painkillers.

In a letter sent to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg on Wednesday, Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) wrote that the administration's plans are "underwhelming and a day late" and would "punt to the drug companies when it comes to prescriber education."

She added, "Instead of merely educating people about dangerous drugs, the FDA should do more to limit access to these potent, addictive drugs so they can only be used when absolutely necessary."

Bono Mack has developed legislation that would require FDA to reclassify oxycodone so that it can be used only to treat severe pain. Last week, she held a hearing on prescription drug misuse, during which Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) said he supported restricting how oxycodone is prescribed.

Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) also have developed legislation (HR 1065) that would reclassify oxycodone ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 4/20).

Experts Also Call for Tighter Restrictions

Various experts also want the administration to go further in restricting painkiller prescriptions.

Jane Ballantyne, a pain specialist at the University of Washington, said that the new federal plan is "a good first step" but suggested that additional restrictions are needed. Andrew Kolodny, chair of the psychiatry department at Maimonides Medical Center, said requiring education programs for prescribers might lead to ineffectual courses because drugmakers will not want to make the courses too difficult (Fiore, MedPage Today, 4/20).

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