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Prescription drug abuse nearly doubled over a three-year period, according to a new report. In addition to the statistics that you may have seen elsewhere, the study’s authors recommend ways to curb this trend including submitting all promotional material for controlled drugs to FDA.
Prescription drug abuse is on the rise, according to three-year study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. The organization found that the number of people in the U.S. abusing prescription drugs, including painkillers, depressants and stimulants increased from 7.8 million to 15.1 million.
As part of its report, the center offered recommendations to different sectors of the healthcare industry on how to curb this trend. It encouraged FDA to require companies to submit promotional materials created for doctors and other professionals for review by the agency.
“Direct marketing of controlled prescription drugs to physicians may increase the demand for them, at least artificially,” said Susan Foster, vice president of policy research and analysis at CASA.
The report asserts that aggressive marketing of controlled drugs could lead to over-prescription, which opens the door for potential abuse.
But Dr. Glenn Birnbaum, emergency room physician and medical director of Tradewinds Medical Advisors LLC, disagreed.
"In my opinion, marketing of controlled prescription drugs, irresponsible or otherwise, does not have any significant effect on over-prescription or abuse of these drugs," he said via email. "Physicians are sensitive to the issue of prescription drug abuse and do not want to contribute to it."
Katherine O’Neill of O’Neill Consulting said targeting promotion to specialist doctors, who will understand the risks and also the importance of these types of medications, could minimize chance of unnecessary prescriptions. For example, she said that pain specialists would be good targets for pharmaceutical sales representatives for controlled painkillers.
“The more specialized a drug is, the more important it is that the people using it have that expertise,” O’Neill said.
Inadequate Marketing Materials
Foster said that existing marketing materials do not help professionals determine which drug is the best to prescribe in a given situation. The center surveyed doctors and pharmacists about the promotional information they receive for receive for controlled prescription drugs.
Doctors assigned these particular marketing materials in the following rankings:
• Very Helpful 6 percent
• Somewhat Helpful 24 percent
• Not Too Helpful 41 percent
• Not At All Helpful 25.5 percent
Pharmacists assigned the same marketing materials the following rankings:
• Very Helpful 4.3 percent
• Somewhat Helpful 35 percent
• Not Too Helpful 44.7 percent
• Not At All Helpful 14 percent
The voluntary marketing guidelines written by PhRMA do not have any special recommendations for controlled prescription drugs, according to spokesman Jeff Trewhitt.
An End to Advertising
The center’s report also called for an end to DTC advertising of all controlled prescription drugs. Although many controlled drugs are not marketed to the public, some sleep aids do have DTC campaigns. Foster said that advertising potentially addictive drugs to consumers could create health problems instead of help treat them.
Although it does not have the authority to govern marketing, the Drug Enforcement Agency, disapproves of advertising drugs that it has labeled “controlled” to consumers.
“Our objection is basically that its an inappropriate practice,” spokeswoman Rogene Waite said. “The physicians have the appropriate knowledge. The equation is confused and complicated with DTC ads.”
Waite added that patient demand, due to DTC ads, could have an affect on the number of prescriptions written.
“Anyone who needs this type of medication should be getting some serious medical attention and a correct diagnosis,” O’Neill said via email.