Patient voices missing from media conversation about prescription drug abuse

The patient voice is missing from the media conversation about prescription drug abuse. Learn how PhRMA strongly supports efforts to combat opioid abuse.

Amey Sutkowski
Caitlin CarrollSeptember 19, 2016

Patient voices missing from media conversation about prescription drug abuse.

Confronting and curtailing opioid abuse in America is a top public health priority and one to which PhRMA remains deeply committed. Mandating prescriber training, using state-based databases to prevent abuse and accelerating the development of abuse deterrent formulations for opioid medications and alternatives are just some of the policy proposals PhRMA supports in this important cause.

Conversations in the media about prescription drug abuse spurred by a recent Associated Press report, however, have failed to present all the facts. For instance, 90 percent of abused pain medications are generics. And often lost in the conversation are the millions of Americans living with chronic pain every day that legitimately need prescription pain medication.

Pain is the most common reason Americans seek out health care, and it affects more people than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. The National Institute for Health (NIH) estimates that 10.3 percent of adults experience chronic pain and 55.7 percent of adults experience some type of pain. It covers a diverse array of patients, including 90 percent of patients with advanced cancer and back surgery patients taking the long road to recovery. It can be debilitating. According to NIH, adults experiencing the most severe pain “were likely to have worse health status, use more health care, and suffer from more disability than those with less severe pain.”

Because pain is invisible, it’s frequently difficult for patients to quantify and communicate, and it can often go untreated, according to researchers. In 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act required non-partisan, federally funded research on chronic pain to better inform the conversation. Today, we have a clearer portrait of pain management in America, which is vital to crafting policies that balance the risks and seriousness of prescription drug abuse with the legitimate needs of chronic pain sufferers.

Pioneering science from America’s biopharmaceutical researchers is a critical component to a solution to the opioid epidemic. Researchers are continually looking for innovative ways to curtail abuse, including new abuse deterrent formulations (ADFs) and a wider array of treatment options. According to the Center for Lawful Access and Abuse Deterrence, “Although abuse-deterrent technology is still in its nascent stages, ADFs have been proven to reduce prescription drug abuse and its consequences.” As the non-profit points out, even a small reduction can significantly change our nation. These new formulations save lives, help communities and lower the high social and economic costs of treating abuse.

Mandatory, up-to-date training and clear clinical guidelines for prescribers are also changes that would significantly curtail abuse. The people writing prescriptions should be educated, in their initial training and throughout their career, on the proper prescribing of pain medications, signs of potential abuse and the nuances of pain management. Additionally, we should establish evidence-based clinical guidelines, like those recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to inform appropriate prescribing and dosage. That includes evaluating first-time patients with acute pain to ensure they are not prescribed an excess dosage.

PhRMA strongly supports these efforts as part of our extensive policy recommendations to combat opioid abuse, which you can find explained in-depth here.

Ultimately, we need to find a solution that works. It must incorporate the facts about patients living with chronic, preventable pain, while also weighing the risks associated with opioid abuse. PhRMA remains dedicated to partnering with patient advocates, public health leaders and policymakers to craft a solution that balances both of these important needs.


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