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Reducing the Risk of Opioid Pain Relievers

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Opioid pain relievers come from a group of drugs that are known as opioids. The reason why they are called opioids is because they are synthetic versions of opium.

Opioid pain relievers come in three forms. They are available as liquids, pills and skin patches. Opioid pain relievers are used in the treatment of moderate to severe chronic pain.

The way that opioid pain relievers work is by changing the way in which your brain discerns pain. The problem is that opioid pain relievers present more of a safety concern than immediate-release pain formulas due to the fact that they are more powerful and either are released into your body over longer periods of time or stay in your body for a longer period of time.

If you suffer from moderate to severe chronic (ongoing) pain, you may face a good news/ bad news situation when it comes to choosing a treatment for your pain. When your doctor prescribes opioid pain relievers for the right condition and they are used in the proper way, they can help manage your pain. However, if your doctor prescribes opioid pain relievers when you should not have them, or you use them for recreational purposes or in an improper manner, they can result in serious harm to you. This includes overdose and death.

Risk management plan

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is trying to reduce these risks as much as possible by approving a risk management plan for a class of these opioid pain relievers that are called extended-release (ER) and long-acting (LA) opioid analgesics. The risk management plan is twofold. The first part of the plan is to make sure that health care professionals are trained on how to instruct their patients to use these drugs safely. The second part of the plan is to train health care professionals on how to properly prescribe these drugs.

Deputy director of FDA’s Division of Anesthesia, Analgesia and Addiction Products, Sharon Hertz, M.D., says, “There are a limited number of options available for the treatment plan. Opioids are one option, but they carry a significant risk of misuse, abuse, overdose and death. We’re trying to help physicians manage the risks and improve the safety of using these medicines.”

Educational training

The risk management plan of the FDA will affect over 20 ER/LA opioid companies. These companies will have to provide educational training for health care professionals concerning the safe prescribing of these drugs. These companies will also be required to carry out other new activities that are aimed at reducing the risks of these medications.

In April, 2011, the FDA informed drug makers that they would be required to develop this program, which would be known as the Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS). The FDA did this in conjunction with a White House campaign against prescription drug abuse.

Hopefully, patients will benefit in two ways. First, health care professionals will have a greater awareness and knowledge of the risks and proper use of opioid pain relievers. Second, patients will receive an updated Medication Guide from the pharmacist when they are given an ER/LA opioid medication that is written in plain language so that they will know how to safely use the medication.
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