The meeting was titled “Patient-Focused Drug Development for Chronic Pain” and many of the patients who attended the meeting in Silver Spring, Maryland asked the FDA to help make opioid prescriptions more easily available for those who really need them, according to NBC News.
Problematic Policy Changes
Daniel Sutter, a professor of economics at Troy University, says well-intentioned policy changes to address the opioid epidemic actually exacerbated the problem by making opioids more difficult for doctors to prescribe.
“Some states have passed, at the recommendation of the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, laws restricting opioid prescriptions,” Sutter said. “If you’re going to attempt to restrict people from getting access to painkillers who have pain that is not so severe or who are going to sell their pain medicines, then it is inevitably going to lead some people who are in real pain to also be denied access.
“I think adults have a right to control medical decisions,” Sutter said. “If somebody feels that their pain is bad enough that they want to try to manage it, as an adult they should have a right to do that, although they may need to pay for the pain medicines themselves.”
Suggests Harm Reduction Approach
Sutter says policymakers have an alternative if they’re serious about addressing the addiction problem: a strategy of harm reduction instead of opioid restriction.
“Restrictions on access to opioid painkillers since 2010 have clearly had the effect of increasing harm,” Sutter said. “Lots of people have turned to heroin and fentanyl, which are far more deadly. From a policy perspective, it might be best for people to be addicted to something that is not going to cause as much harm.
“I think we need to move to non-prescription access [for these drugs],” Sutter said. “In effect, if somebody went to their doctor and wanted to get a prescription for opioid painkillers and the doctor’s judgement was that they don’t need the prescription, then they would be able to get them, but they’d have to pay for them out of pocket.”
‘A Long Way to Go’
Ed Hudgins, research director for The Heartland Institute, which publishes Health Care News, says public meetings like the FDA’s pain medication forum are a step in the right direction.
“The FDA still has a long way to go to address some of the problems they have as a regulatory agency,” Hudgins said. “In this situation, they appear to be trying to get a handle on two problems simultaneously: the tremendous overuse of opioids in this country and the accurate perception they are a regulatory agency that was forced kicking and screaming into the modern health care world via legislation like Right to Try. Actively listening to a few of the millions of people that rely on their decision-making is a good first step.”