The federal government and health officials alike have long been searching for solutions to what most experts agree is the nation’s fastest growing drug epidemic: prescription drug abuse. Prescription drug abuse is such a lethal health problem that overdoses from prescription drugs have been responsible for more deaths than overdoses from heroin and cocaine combined. As prescription drug abuse combined. As prescription drug abuse continues to plague communities everywhere, a number of methods for curbing the rates of addiction and abuse have been implemented. One such method has been put in place by the FDA, who recently unveiled a new plan design to lower rates of addiction by educating doctors and patients. Unfortunately, this well meaning plan falls short of being effective in a number of ways.
What the Plan Does
The FDA’s plan aims to help reduce instances of erroneous prescriptions by offering educational sessions to doctors and patients at little or no cost. Under the plan, doctors will have access to courses that highlight and explain the guidelines of proper opiate prescribing. These courses are to be funded by the manufacturers of some of the strongest extended-release painkillers, including Johnson&Johnson and Pfizer. They are to be monitored by a third-party auditor, who will assess the degree to which the programs are effective and educational. Patients who have been prescribed opiates will also have access to easily understood information that will summarize the ways in which their prescriptions can be safely used and disposed of when they are no longer needed. Patients will also be given information about the ways in which they may be able to seek medical care in the event of an overdose.
Why the Plan is Not Adequate
Due to the severe nature of the prescription drug epidemic and the highly dangerous and addictive nature of prescription opiates, many experts in the fields of mental health and addiction treatment believe that the programs being offered by the FDA are far from sufficient. The fact that the educational programs are elective means that many doctors may choose not to attend the programs. This is especially true in an era where physicians have their plates full with updates to their coding systems and an influx of new patients who are now covered under the health insurance policies that are provided as part of the Affordable Care Act. Patients who are prescribed potentially dangerous opiates are also highly likely to choose not to read or pay full attention to the materials provided to them when they receive their prescriptions. The reality is that in the face of an epidemic as fast growing and lethal as the prescription drug epidemic, more aggressive methods of combatting addiction and abuse are needed.
What Would Work Better?
Making educational programs for doctors who prescribe opiates mandatory is one way that could greatly increase the effectiveness of prevention programs. This should also include education about the ways that addictive behavior can be recognized. Education about the dangers of opiates should also become a more standard element of any medical program, so that new doctors begin their medical careers with a foundation that recognizes the severe risks associated with prescribing addictive painkillers. Doing this could also help change the culture of medicine and increase the degree to which addictive drugs are prescribed with caution. Patients who are prescribed opiates should also receive a mandatory in person consultation about the dangers of prescription opiates. A face to face consultation is likely to be much more effective and much more difficult to ignore than a simple document that can easily be ignored and discarded.