When a Solution Becomes a Problem: Doctors and Lawmakers on Opiate Painkillers

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Today an FDA advisory panel meets with lawmakers to hammer out voluntary best practices for doctors who prescribe opiates. The regulation of opioid drugs like Oxycontin has loosened in recent years, as patient advocates asked for powerful narcotic painkillers for end-of-life care and cancer treatments. But in loosening restrictions for such cases, the FDA opened a window for wider prescriptions — and for abuse.

In 2007, according to the FDA, 5.2 million people reported using powerful prescription drugs for nonmedical use. Even those who need the drugs can often develop destructive dependencies.

Even as the FDA works on voluntary guidelines, Washington State is looking to create more powerful binding regulations. As Barry Meier reports in today’s New York Times, doctors will likely be looking at Washington State for a national model. Meier joins The Takeaway, along with Joel Saper, director of the Michigan Head Pain and Neurological Institute and author of an upcoming paper offering expert recommendations on the use of opioids for headaches.