Just one month after Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean launched a Pharma Task Force to crack down on unscrupulous doctors and pharmacists, the Food and Drug Administration has come up with new rules aimed at curbing an epidemic of pain pill addiction.
The new regulations, which FDA says will be in place by December, will require makers of popular pain drugs like OxyContin to add new warning labels to warn doctors, pharmacists and consumers about the dangers of using the drug.
Drug companies also will have to conduct new studies to identify treatment patterns that lead to high levels of addiction.
The seriousness of this problem cannot be overstated. A widely quoted study from the Centers for Disease Control suggests that 12 million people abuse forms of pain pills every day; they led to more than 16,000 deaths in 2010 the same study reported.
In remarks to Ventura County Economic Development Association this summer, Dean said that all-too-easy access to pain meds has made them the drugs of choice for high school kids and young adults in Ventura County, particularly in wealthy suburbs including Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village.
The FDA rules are a small step forward in curbing abuse of prescriptions drugs. But advocates for stronger controls blasted the new rules as a mere window dressing, steps that do nothing to monitor how patients are using the prescriptions that doctors are writing and pharmacists are using.
Thanks to emerging technologies which are getting cheaper by the day, there are ways to make sure that these pain meds, known as opioids are being used properly.
If we are going to really tackle this epidemic patients who receive prescriptions for opioids are probably going to have to agree to subject themselves to fairly hefty forms of electronic monitoring to make sure they are not overusing the drugs or selling them to others.
For the moment, a sign from the FDA that it intends to get more engaged on the issue of pain killer prescription abuse is a first step.
And the burden of enforcement continues to fall on local law enforcement officials with costs borne by taxpayers.