FDA Endorses Industry-Sponsored Physician Education on Opioid Prescribing

The upside is that there is a clear recognition of the scale of the problem of over-prescription and inappropriate use of addictive painkillers. As noted in this Medpage article, “the prescription painkiller epidemic … was responsible for about 15,600 deaths in 2009, the latest year for which there are data.”

But industry sponsorship is a major red flag, leading some to opine that these educational programs fall far short of constituting an adequate response to the problem.

“The FDA’s goal is to ensure that healthcare professionals have the education they need to prescribe opioids and that patients have the know-how to safely use these drugs,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said during a press call.

But critics cite a number of problems with the guidance, including its reliance on industry sponsorship of education, even with middle-man medical education companies. Also, extended-release and long-acting opioid analgesics training will not be mandatory for prescribers.

Finally, the program will not cover powerful short-acting opioids such as hydrocodone (Vicodin) that have an equally high potential for abuse.

“These educational programs are likely going to do more harm than good,” said Andrew Kolodny, MD, chair of psychiatry at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City. “Nowhere does it say that prescribers should tell patients these drugs are addictive. And these programs give the implied message that there’s evidence for using opioids in long-term, noncancer chronic pain.”