The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is pushing for new labeling on prescription drugs. Of particular concern to the FDA are painkilling prescription medications with extended time release formulas. The proposal comes on the heels of numerous deaths and near-death overdoses related to these powerful medications. In 2010, more than 16,000 people died from an overdose of a prescription opioid.
Opioids are a family of medications derived from the opium poppy plant. Morphine, codeine and heroin belong to this particular family of drugs. Oxycodone and OxyContin are perhaps the best known opioids and are certainly the most often abused.
Teens may perceive prescription drugs as safer than street drugs, and the FDA hopes that bold labels will dissuade experimentation.
If the FDA gets its way new labels would clearly warn of the risks of abuse, addiction and death associated with prescription opioid use, as well as risks to the not yet born. Pregnant mothers who use opioids chronically can put their newborn at risk for a fatal withdrawal syndrome. The FDA wants consumers to see these dangers in bold print every time they pick up the bottle of pills.
Currently opioids are prescribed for moderate to severe pain management. The FDA would like to see them limited to treatment of severe pain, a treatment of last resort after all other pain control remedies have been tried.
Increased prescribing oversight rather than more labeling is needed, according to some, due to the drugs being far too widely prescribed. The FDA, however, has no authority over medical practice and cannot direct physicians in when and how to use medications. What they can do is make recommendations and put clear warnings on labels. But this is as far as their authority extends. It will be up to the medical association itself to work toward restricting opioid prescriptions.