Training targets drug abuse at source

| Tuesday, July 10, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

A federal initiative announced on Monday aimed at educating family doctors about prescription pain medication should help combat abuse, experts said.

The Food and Drug Administration program will require 20 companies that manufacture extended-release and long-acting opioid medication to provide training for prescribers of such medication. The classes will teach how to weigh the risks of the medication and how to spot signs of potential abuse, said Dr. Margaret Hamburg, FDA commissioner. Officials hope to begin the programs by March 1.

“I think we are embarking on a very positive course, and I think that as physicians start to receive this education, they will welcome it and benefit from it and we will see it paying off,” Hamburg said.

Management of pain treatment has increasingly been shifted to primary care physicians, who don't always have the most up-to-date information on the medications, said Dr. Scott Drab, a University of Pittsburgh associate professor of pharmacy and therapeutics.

“The education right now is very, very spotty,” Drab said. “If everyone was seeing a pain specialist, it might be different, but many individuals are not seeing pain specialists, they're seeing primary care physicians and they may not be well-suited for the task of managing this type of pain.”

More than 320,000 medical professionals registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration wrote at least one prescription for extended-release and long-acting opioids in 2011, according to a release from the FDA.

The FDA expects at least 60 percent of the prescribers to receive the training in the next three years, Hamburg said. The training is voluntary, but Hamburg said officials are exploring how to make it mandatory.

“It's a big problem that obviously should start with the providers — we're the ones putting out the prescriptions — but it needs to go beyond that,” said Dr. Jack Kabazie, medical director for the Institute for Pain Medicine at West Penn Hospital and program director for West Penn Allegheny Pain Medicine Fellowship. “It is definitely a step in the right direction. I think we need to make education mandatory.”

Law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Attorney's Office, sponsored a summit focused on fighting the increase of prescription drug abuse and addiction last month.

“The prescription pill epidemic cannot be solved by law enforcement alone,” U.S. Attorney David Hickton said in a statement. “Addressing this problem is going to take a multi-faceted solution which attacks both the supply and the demand for these medications.”

Dr. Neil Capretto, medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center, said he believes the educational programs will raise doctors and patients' awareness of potential abuse.

“Is it going to stop abuse? No, but it's certainly better to do this than not to do this,” Capretto said. “This is a good step. Time will tell how much of an impact it's going to have on abuse or misuse.”

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or

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