How, then, can the administration make such a cold and indifferent decision as to allow the generic pharmaceutical industry to profit off of drug abuse, overdose, and death?
According to the Obama-Biden White House, prescription drug abuse is “the nation’s fastest-growing drug problem.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has deemed it an epidemic, and one senior Food and Drug Administration (FDA) official has called it a “societal crisis.” The FDA reports that opioid pain relievers are “extensively misprescribed, misused, and abused, leading to overdoses, addictions, and even deaths.”
Pharmaceutical companies have a societal obligation to make their products safer. The makers of two of the most commonly abused pain medications, OxyContin and Opana, have done so. They developed new products that are less prone than their prior versions to crushing, chewing, or dissolving -- three common methods of prescription drug abuse that often result in overdose and death.
Over the past two years, these drug companies voluntarily withdrew the original versions of their products from the U.S. market and replaced them with their new, abuse-deterrent formulations. Peer-reviewed studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicate that drug dealers and abusers have less interest in the new pain medications with abuse-deterrent features. In fact, since the replacement of the original Opana with the reformulated product, abuse of the medication has decreased by 59 percent.
This month, the offices of the vice president and secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services decided to allow the old, crushable forms of these drugs to come back to the market in cheaper, generic form. Unless the administration reverses this action, communities across the nation will, within days, see increases in prescription drug abuse, pharmacy robberies, and unintentional overdoses. Americans will die. The nascent market for safer medications will die, too.
Among the most frustrating aspects of the administration’s decision to allow generic versions of the more crushable pain drugs to come to market is that the generic drug makers have the ability to add abuse-deterrent features to their products without significantly raising their prices. Nevertheless, they refuse to do so. More readily abused pills yield heavier demand, heftier sales, and higher corporate revenue. If ever there were an “obscene” profit, this is it.
The Obama-Biden administration has publicly acknowledged that it has the authority to remove prevalently abused, crushable pain pills from the market, citing the imminent public hazard they pose. It has declined to do so.
During his inaugural address, the president declared, “Together we resolve that a great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.” The president must lead our nation in protecting its people from drug abuse, overdose, and death. This we can do without the war on profits.
Barnes is executive director of the Center for Lawful Access and Abuse Deterrence and managing attorney for DCBA Law.