Act more quickly on drug abuse

It is not enough, and it took them far too long to get to this point, but federal officials finally have taken action that will help remove some of the opioids allowed to flood the market.

Last month, the Food and Drug Administration asked pharmaceutical company Endo to pull Opana ER, or oxymorphone hydrochloride, because of “the public health consequences of abuse.”

To its credit, the company appears not to have kicked up much of a fuss, and has set a timeline to remove the drug from the market while helping doctors and patients find alternatives. This is after the company tried altering its doses — addicts had been crushing the pills to snort them — only to realize addicts were still abusing the drugs, by injecting the reformulated version. Of course, this specific drug came to the FDA’s attention — or, rather, came to the public’s attention and therefore had to be addressed by the FDA — after it was revealed as the drug of choice for many of the addicts affected by the Indiana HIV outbreak in 2015. During that year, half of all overdose deaths in the U.S. involved prescription drugs.

Even then, it took the FDA two years to suggest to one drug company that it pull one drug off the market. This is not an easy thing for Endo to do. Opana earned the firm $160 million last year. But good for Endo officials for putting public health before profit. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says prescribers are beginning to get the message as well. From 2012 to 2015, the number of prescriptions for opioids dropped by 13.1 percent. That is not nearly enough — the CDC’s acting director said the number of opioids prescribed in 2015 was still enough to keep every American medicated round-the-clock for three weeks, according to a report in the Washington Post. But it is a start.

If drug companies are willing to work with the FDA to take some of these drugs off the market, and prescribers are willing to hand out fewer opioid prescriptions, why in the world is the FDA so slow to act?