Controversy with Opioids for Pain and FDA Response


The number of people who are becoming dependent on prescription pain medications is on the rise. One out of every 15 individuals who use prescription painkillers may try heroin within ten years, according to research conducted by the National Institute of Drug Abuse. In 2004 alone, an estimated 1.4 million people abused their prescription drugs, and five percent tried heroin. By 2010, these numbers jumped to 1.9 million drug-dependent users with 14 percent of people trying heroin.

Rise in Heroin Use

The rise in heroin usage is likely due to the high price of prescription pain medications and the relatively low price of heroin. Heroin is also a stronger drug, which becomes appealing to those whose pain medicines no longer bring them relief. The increase in heroin use comes with a higher risk of overdose. In 2014, a recorded 914,000 people used heroin, which was an increase of 145% since 2007. Also in 2014, over 10,500 heroin-related deaths were reported. 

The FDA has responded by developing educational programs for individuals who take prescription drugs to warn them of the dangers of becoming addicted.

As of September 2013, the FDA instituted safety label changes for all opioids that fall into the category of extended-release and long-acting. The FDA also created a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy plan to educate prescription holders on managing their pain without extended drug reliance. In 2015, the FDA also established a Guidance for Industry plan to label and evaluate opioids that are uniquely addictive.