News of the opioid addiction epidemic claiming numerous lives from overdoses amongst other outcomes in the United States has been spread far and wide.
With this, relevant authorities including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have stepped up efforts to tackle this pressing issue. Countries such as China have joined in the efforts by nipping the sales of synthetic opioids in the bud.

FDA orders for Opana ER to be taken off the market

This month, the FDA made history by going after a pharmaceutical company for the first time ever. The agency discovered that the use of Opana ER, an opioid painkiller, has risks that outweigh its benefits. It is often snorted and injected, associated with HIV outbreaks, the spread of hepatitis C and a blood clotting disorder called thrombotic microangiopathy.

FDA Commissioner, Dr Scott Gottlieb said in a statement, “We are facing an opioid epidemic—a public health crisis, and we must take all necessary steps to reduce the scope of opioid misuse and abuse.”
“We will continue to take regulatory steps when we see situations where an opioid product’s risks outweigh its benefits, not only for its intended patient population but also in regard to its potential for misuse and abuse.”

Other experts are thrilled with the stance taken by the FDA to curb this soaring epidemic.

“I am pleased, but not because I think that this one move by itself will have much impact,” Dr Andrew Kolodny, an opioid policy researcher at Brandeis University and directs Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, stated.

“I’m hopeful that this signals a change at FDA—and that Opana might be just the first opioid that they’ll consider taking off the market. It’s too soon to tell,” he added.

Authorities in China attempt to control synthetic opioids

To control synthetic opioids, deputy director of the National Narcotics Control Commission in China said, come 1 July, designer drug U-47700 and three other synthetic drugs would be added to China’s list of controlled substances.

Up till now, U-47700 has been a legal alternative to fentanyl and potent derivatives like carfentanil in China. However, opioid addicts in America have been increasingly using it.

In 2016, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) categorised U-47700 as one of the most dangerous drugs it regulates. They stated that it was linked to dozens of fatalities in some stated. In addition, some pills containing U-47700 were obtained from Prince’s estate after the star’s publicised overdose death last year.

Ministry of Public Security’s Narcotics Control Bureau’s division director said “big efforts” were underway to deal with new psychoactive substances, which are made to evade the law by modifying the chemical structures of controlled substances.

138 of these substances have since been restricted. When this happens, chemists conjure up slightly different and technically legal alternatives to sell online.

To quicken substance control, a system is in place where information on new types of drugs gathered during police investigations, customs clearances and medical treatment would be transferred to the national drug lab to be assessed and agencies will receive alert notices following this.

Not enough are treated for opioid use disorder

A healthcare company, Amino, recently analysed data from the claims of 3.1 million privately insured patients between 2014 and 2016 in the United States and discovered that patients with opioid use disorder are more likely to have a multitude of other health conditions such as hepatitis C, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.

The company also found out that “failed back syndrome”—a category that covers back pain after surgery—is seven times more frequently diagnosed in patients with opioid use disorder compared to the general population. The American College of Physicians (ACP) aptly reviewed the evidence on treating back pain and came up with a new set of guidelines. They recommended that opioids be used as a last resort for treating lower back pain.

Non-drug therapies should first be trialled like exercise, massage and yoga. Only unless these fail, should an over-the-counter painkiller be given and, in most cases, back pain improves over time irrespective of treatment.

Experts in the United States are also studying the various opioid addiction treatment methods available. In one study, it was found that a mere 27% of 21,000 patients diagnosed with opioid addiction received appropriate treatment with buprenorphine or naltrexone from 2001 to 2014, when addiction was soaring.

Study author Dr Scott Hadland commented on the study findings, “The treatment gap is bad for everybody and even worse for certain subgroups.”

“Even though all the youth in our sample had access to high-quality health insurance, they may not have had equal access to high-quality addiction care.” MIMS

Read more:
How one letter led America down the path of opioid addiction
Is Singapore vulnerable to an opioid crisis?
Doctor admits to making millions from selling prescription drugs to addicts