Immediate-release prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone and fentanyl, will now carry an alert about their risk of abuse, addiction, overdose and death, according to a recent announcement by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The move is part of an aggressive effort by federal health authorities to help slow the country’s opioid epidemic, which is responsible for killing more people than car accidents annually, CNN reports.
“Black box” warnings are the FDA’s strongest and meant to educate doctors and pharmacists as they’re prescribing medications to their patients. Now, whenever patients in the United States go to fill a prescription for a painkiller, they’ll be notified about the dangers of taking the drug and encouraged to read a guide explaining the risks of the medication. Currently, 90 percent of opioid painkillers are the immediate-release form of the drug.
The new FDA warning comes shortly after President Obama proposed an additional $1.1 billion to expand substance abuse treatment programs for prescription drug and heroin abuse across the country. This warning also follows a draft of guidelines from federal health authorities for new abuse-deterrent formulations of generic opioids.
Currently, there are no generic abuse-deterrent formulations of prescription painkillers, which means drug users are able to pulverize the pills to snort or dissolve for injecting in the same way heroin (also an opioid) is used. The uptick in injection opioid use has led to a recent surge in new hepatitis C virus [HCV] infections and even outbreaks of HIV in the United States during the last few years.