FDA takes fresh look at whether opioids are effective for chronic pain - The Washington Post
The Food and Drug Administration will require drug companies to study whether prescription opioids are effective in quelling chronic pain — another step in the government’s efforts to rein in use of the narcotics that spawned the drug epidemic.
Some studies already indicate that opioids are ineffective for pain beyond 12 weeks and many experts say long-term use can cause addiction, by prompting patients to build up tolerance to the drugs and seek higher doses. But conclusive, controlled research is scarce.
A finding of ineffectiveness in more rigorous studies supervised by the FDA could allow the agency to change the labeling on some opioids, impose special rules for prescribing, dispensing and taking them, and even prohibit their use in some cases, according to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.
But at least one longtime critic of the FDA’s response to the opioid crisis expressed frustration with the move. Andrew Kolodny, director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, said the FDA already has all the research it needs — and authority under existing law — to tighten restrictions on the use of opioids for chronic pain by changing instructions for how they should be prescribed.
“Here we go again,” Kolodny said in an interview. “That’s exactly what the FDA said to us in 2013. . . . Five years later, we don’t have the studies and another FDA commissioner says, ‘We’re going to do the studies.’ ”
In 2013, after Kolodny’s group complained that opioids should be labeled unsafe and ineffective for chronic pain, the FDA ordered similar research, including an attempt to determine whether painkillers cause hyperalgesia. Gottlieb said those studies were difficult to carry out because, at the time, the FDA had authority only to require post-market studies of safety, rather than effectiveness.
On Sunday, the CBS program “60 Minutes” explored the FDA’s decision in 2001 to allow long-term use of OxyContin despite the lack of research showing it was safe and effective. Gottlieb conceded that “it’s regrettable we didn’t do this many years ago.”
The vast majority of opioid prescriptions written in 2017 were for generic versions of the drugs. The research would be required only of companies that produce brand-name narcotics; generic producers would be required to adopt the same changes.