Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Scott Gottlieb issued a statement this morning reaffirming the agency’s endorsement of prescription opioids for chronic pain treatment. Gottlieb was careful to temper his support with a cautious nod toward the epidemic of misuse and abuse that has consumed the country. The National Institutes of Health reports that over 25 million Americans suffer from chronic pain and the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that almost 30 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them. This has left many in the addiction treatment community, and medical community at large, contemplating alternatives to these dangerous and powerful medications.
A Delicate Balancing Act
The announcement comes as the FDA hosts what they call a “Public Meeting on Patient-Focused Drug Development for Chronic Pain” to hear patients’ perspectives on opioids for chronic pain, their views on treatment approaches, and challenges or barriers to accessing treatment. Gottlieb correctly wrote in the statement that there are too many prescriptions being written for opioids, and the durations of use for many of these prescriptions are not appropriate for the medical conditions for which they’re being written. There were more than 214 million opioid prescriptions written in 2016. While this represents a ten-year low, it’s still incredibly high and disproportionate with need.
What Does the Future Look Like for Those Taking Opioids for Chronic Pain?
Gottlieb claims the FDA will continue to make every effort to ensure patients have access to prescription opioids for chronic pain; however, the agency says it’s looking to balance this need with responsible and effective reforms that prevent misuse and abuse. This includes providing additional guidelines for physicians who provide treatment and further investigating the trends and patterns of over prescribing in every area of the country. Millions of Americans take prescription opioids for chronic pain; however, tens of thousands die from opioid overdose each year. The task ahead of the FDA and all other relevant stakeholders is examining and addressing the overlap.