Opioid epidemic: FDA ‘innovative’ packaging not enough

Public health experts are not convinced that the solution to America’s opioid epidemic lies in changes to packaging, as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has suggested.
The opioid crisis stems from the widespread prescription of strong painkillers along with heroin addiction. In 2015, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, 55 people died each day from addiction to strong painkillers, while heroin overdose claimed 35 lives daily.

Following president Donald Trump’s declaration of a public health emergency, the FDA announced on 30 October that it would explore different ways of packaging strong painkillers, including blister packs that have a limited duration of use.

“We believe that innovation in packaging, storage, and disposal could have a meaningful impact on preventing or deterring misuse, abuse, or inappropriate access to prescription opioids,” said FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb in a statement.

Other changes that the FDA said could deter new addictions, would be packaging that tracks the number of doses taken by patients or encouragement for “prompt disposal” to reduce the risk of others, such as a children, “accidentally ingesting pills they found in a medicine cabinet”.

However, Richard Blondell, vice-chairman for addiction medicine at the Jacobs School of Medicine at the University of Buffalo, said that changing packaging and disposal methods were unlikely to make a significant difference. In his view, putting controls on physician’s prescriptions would have more impact.

“Pharmaceutical companies need to be held accountable for deceptive advertising practices that have encouraged physicians to overprescribe opioid medications,” said Blondell.

“In the US, health insurance companies have a role to play by reducing payments for the over-prescription of narcotics and decreasing barriers to the treatment of those who have become addicted as an unintended consequence of overly aggressive pain management.”

In August, Erin Krebs, a researcher at the Department of Veteran Affairs was quoted on news website Gizmodo as saying that If one were to describe a ‘patient’ as anyone ever treated with opioids, “then we could be talking about the whole US population, because we’ve so blanketed our society with at least short-term opioid therapy it would be hard to exclude anyone”.

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