Sunday, August 26, 2007

Drugs Destroying Lives

The Tennessean has an editorial and a series of guest pieces on one of the most serious social and health care problems in the United States today: abuse of prescription drugs. The number of people who are suffering the consequences of long term use of opioids is staggering. That some doctors treating patients with chronic pain are willing routinely to write prescriptions for long periods of time for these highly addictive substances is scandalous.

One of the guest pieces is by a person associated with Alive Hospice. That organization typically is involved in the care of terminally ill patients in the last stages of life. That is a different situation that should be dealt with separately and for which the last statement in the above paragraph does not apply.

An example of misuse of these drugs that The Tennessean does not discuss is Actiq, a powerful narcotic approved by the FDA for use by cancer patients. Actiq takes the form of a lollipop, and was designed for use by severely ill patients who have trouble swallowing. Yet, Joe Paduda points out that only 1% of prescriptions filled in the first half of 2006 were written by oncologists. Actiq is now one of the top 3 drugs, in terms of dollars spent, being prescribed for workers' compensation patients. Such off label drug use (that is, use in ways that differ from that which the drug was approved for by the FDA) invites abuse.

The medical profession needs to get serious about addressing this issue.


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