(6/11/2015) Tackling prescription drug abuse

There are signs that strategies to address prescription drug abuse are starting to work but will an increase in illegal drug use be the payoff?


But regulators and doctors need to strike a balance between keeping the drugs away from those who might abuse them, and ensuring that they are available for patients who genuinely need them. Regulations, according to Boyd, run up against “a quality of life issue”. She says: “I would never want patients to not have access to these medications.” …

Already, the FDA has announced that generic versions of OxyContin cannot be sold without abuse-deterrent properties, and it looks like Health Canada is about to do the same. To clarify the situation for the pharmaceutical industry, in April 2015 the FDA released guidelines on how it will evaluate abuse deterrence, so that companies can put the claims on their labels. “I would like the majority of opioids to have abuse-deterrent formulations as soon as possible,” says Throckmorton…

Despite all these hurdles, it looks like the United States is slowly getting its prescription drug abuse epidemic under control. The number of overdose deaths from prescription drugs has levelled off since 2011, and seems to be on the decline.

Overdose deaths from some opioid painkillers also seem to have plateaued in the UK in the past few years, but the overall picture is less rosy. For example, deaths from tramadol overdose have seen a sharp increase. But there have been moves to get it under control. Tramadol was recently reclassified in the UK, which Stannard hopes will lead to more careful prescribing and a drop in the number people misusing it…

It may be too soon to celebrate though. As prescription opioids gained popularity among drug users over the past decades, rates of heroin use plummeted. But now, as authorities have cracked down, and prescription drugs such as OxyContin have become harder to get hold of and abuse, heroin is making a big comeback. The number of heroin overdose deaths in the United States increased fivefold between 2001 and 2013. “As opioid use has declined, opiate use in the form of heroin has increased,” says Boyd. “We are seeing an epidemic of heroin problems now.”

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