Monday | October 23, 2017
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Opioids under attack: Government now is on the offensive

Two announcements from the federal government represent progress in the fight against opioids. On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration said it will require drug manufacturers to better educate physicians about the painkillers. On Tuesday, the Justice Department announced a $35 million settlement with Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, a company charged with looking the other way when it had reason to believe some of its opioids were landing on the black market.

If the tide of the epidemic has not been turned, the battle at least is joined. In addition to the contributions of federal agencies, the states and local governments are becoming increasingly aggressive against drug dealers, manufacturers and the insurance companies that limit treatment for substance abuse.

Ohio and other states have sued drug companies, alleging they fueled the epidemic by underplaying or misrepresenting the drugs’ danger.

Pharmaceutical companies should regard the Justice Department’s settlement with Mallinckrodt as a shot across the bow. The agreement, described as the first with a manufacturer tied to the opioid crisis, carried more than a stiff financial cost. It requires the company to begin tracking its drugs as they move through the supply chain into the hands of consumers. That obligation, if required of other manufacturers and suppliers as well, should help to dampen what seems to be a free flow of drugs.

Physicians represent another potential choke point. If people aren’t prescribed opioids, they can’t become addicted and move on to related drugs, such as heroin. The FDA already requires drugmakers to provide training to physicians about extended-release opioids. Now, they’ll have to offer the training about fast-acting opioids, too.

Physicians don’t have to accept the training, but they should. One wonders why physicians don’t learn enough about the dangers of opioids in medical school. Addiction is not a moral failing. The failing would be if government and other parties did not marshal all available resources against the scourge.

— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


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