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Opioid Expert: ‘Hold FDA’s Feet To The Fire’ For Enabling Opioid Epidemic

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Ethan Barton Editor in Chief
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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enabled opioid prescriptions to skyrocket, particularly with patients who wouldn’t necessarily benefit from the painkillers, an opioid expert told a Senate committee Wednesday.

“FDA has really failed to properly enforce the laws and has allowed opioid manufacturers to improperly promote opioids,” Andrew Kolodny, the opioid policy research co-director at Brandeis University, told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

“The label on opioid analgesics is very broad, which has allowed the manufacturers to promote for conditions where we really shouldn’t be prescribing opioids,” he continued. “Opioids have not been shown to be safe and effective for long term use for common chronic conditions like low-back pain.”

Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidelines recommending that doctors only issue seven days worth of pills for opioid prescriptions when treating acute pain.

“Something that the manufacturers of opioids should stop doing – and something the Food and Drug Administration could require them to stop doing – they should immediately cease promoting opioids for chronic pain,” Kolodny said. “One thing that Congress could do is hold FDA’s feet to the fire.”

More than 200,000 people have died from prescription opioids overdoses, according to the CDC. Many users became addicted after using the drugs legitimately, and four-in-five heroin users started with prescription opioids.

Purdue Pharma launched a highly-aggressive and deceptive marketing campaign promoting its opioid painkiller, OxyContin, The Daily Caller News Foundation has previously reported. The company admitted to downplaying the drug’s addictiveness, which helped convince doctors it was safe to prescribe chronic pain patients. Physicians previously limited opioid prescriptions to terminal patients.

But the FDA shouldn’t have allowed Purdue to promote OxyContin to physicians for chronic pain, since there was no evidence that the drug was less addictive than other opioids, according to Kolodny. Regardless, other manufacturers followed suit and told doctors their opioids were appropriate to treat chronic pain.

“With every manufacturer of opioids, they’ve done the same thing, because the big market is chronic pain,” Kolodny told the Senate panel. “That’s where they’re going to make their money, so that’s what they’re going to promote the use for.”

“These are good medications to ease suffering at the end of life,” he continued. “They’re good medicines when you’re using them for a couple of days after major surgery. But for daily long-term use, they’re more likely to harm the patient than to help the patient.”

Purdue, for example, made $35 billion in sales between 1995 and 2015, according to Forbes. The Sackler family are the company’s sole owners and amassed a $13 billion fortune, primarily through OxyContin sales.

The Sacklers have never publicly donated to addiction treatment centers and are known for their philanthropy to the arts and humanities, previous Daily Caller News Foundation investigations have found.

The FDA isn’t allowed to prevent physicians from prescribing medications for off-label use, Maine’s former Department of Health and Human Services Chief Operating Officer Sam Adophsen told the Senate panel.

Follow Ethan on Twitter. Send tips to ethan@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.

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