Food and Drug Administrator Scott Gottlieb said Thursday his agency will be “very aggressive” in warning consumers about opioid-related products or taking them off the market, noting for too long, people thought the U.S. drug epidemic was welling up from the illicit heroin market.
Dr. Gottlieb said his agency just sent a letter to online retailers like Amazon about the perils of offering large quantities of anti-diarrhea medicines that can be manipulated to create an opioid effect in the body. It also cracked down on the sale of products with kratom, an herb from Southeast Asia with opioid properties.
“We’re trying to take more aggressive steps up front,” Dr. Gottlieb said at an opioid event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in downtown D.C.
Specifically, the Dr. Gottlieb is worried that consumers are taking too many doses of products like Imodium A-D, which is fine if taken in normal doses but can be dangerous if users grab excessive amounts, “grind them up and make a milkshake.”
The FDA would like companies to reformat their blister-packs of pills so consumers aren’t tempted to take too many.
The effort is part of a multi-agency approach to the deadly epidemic under President Trump, who declared opioids addiction to be a public health emergency last fall.
The White House will hold a major summit with Cabinet members and survivors of the epidemic Thursday to examine its progress.
Congress is vetting bipartisan bills to deal with the opioid scourge, though some differences remain.
Democrats said if Mr. Trump truly wants to fight addiction, he should quit touting a budget and Obamacare-repeal plan that would curtail federal spending on Medicaid, a key source of treatment coverage for low-income Americans.
“Actions speak a lot louder than words. With people’s lives on the line each day, Trump’s actions say he does not take this crisis seriously,” Democratic National Committee spokesman Daniel Wessel said.
Opioid overdoses killed 42,000 people in 2016, and the numbers are only expected to get worse, after legions of people who took opioid pills turned to cheaper heroin that’s often cut with fentanyl, a deadly synthetic.
The FDA commissioner said it took a while for the public to realize the problem wasn’t just in the streets, but in the doctor’s office, too.
“In fact, a lot of the addiction was happening in the clinical setting,” Dr. Gottlieb said.
Anne Schuchat, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control Prevention, said her agency is advising doctors on how to get smart about opioids use, though the problem didn’t develop overnight and will take time to resolve.
“We have had decades now of overprescribing that’s led to overdose deaths,” she told the chamber.
Congress is eyeing legislation that would limit initial fills of painkiller pills to three to seven days for acute pain, so people don’t get hooked on opioids from things like getting their wisdom teeth pulled.
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel told the chamber he was able to abstain from opioids after his dentist pulled one of his own teeth.
“Ibuprofen and an ice pack got me through it,” he said.
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