(WASHINGTON) -- A bill introduced in the House of Representatives would ban certain pharmaceuticals from circulation that can be easily abused as recreational drugs. The proposed legislation is aimed at variants of addictive painkillers and other orally-taken medicines as growing attention is given to the risks of the products.
Representatives Bill Keating, D-Mass., and Hal Rogers, R-Ky., made the announcement at a press conference on Capitol Hill Friday. Rep. Keating said the legislation, if passed, would help curb a “silent epidemic” of prescription drug abuse.
“If this were the swine flu or any other kind of disease, this would be making headlines all over the country,” he said. “But because of the stigma that is often attached to this it is not.”
“The increase in abuse in deaths attached to these prescription drug overdoses are occurring at rate even more than heroin and cocaine,” he continued, citing a recent study from the University of Michigan on teenage narcotic use.
The bill will require the Food and Drug Administration to refuse approval of any new pharmaceuticals that do not utilize formulas resistant to tampering. For example a pill should not be easily crushed into a powder that can be snorted for a high, or melted down into a liquid form that can be taken through injection. The “Stop the Tampering of Prescription Pills Act” (STOPP) would also apply generic brands already on the market, if their listed drug adopted a tamper-resistant formula.
Keating demonstrated a sample using a two pills and a hammer. One drug was easily smashed into a fine dust and would be banned under the new guidelines. The other pill retained its shape.
Michael Barnes of the Center for Lawful Access and Abuse Deterrence was present for the announcement. Speaking with ABC News after the demonstration, he explained the tamper-resistant pill seen would shatter into large, solid chunks if enough pressure was applied -- not a form that could be snorted. A tremendous amount of force would be required to turn to a powder. Conversely, if the pill were melted it would revert to a gelatinous liquid that could not be forced through a syringe, he said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 38,000 died in 2010 from drug overdoses with pharmaceuticals involved in nearly 60 percent of cases, eclipsing illegal narcotics. Recently that death rate has exceeded those related to motor vehicle accidents for the second year in a row.
This is the second time members of the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse have pushed such measures. Keating originally introduced the STOPP Act in July but it was not acted on in that congress past its referral to committee. Some generic pharmaceutical manufacturers have resisted attempts by the federal government to mandate similar measures, suggesting it would lead to higher costs for consumers.
Rural areas have shown a disproportionate share of abuse. Congressman Rogers said in his state of Kentucky the time-released painkiller OxyContin was known by street names including “Proxies,” “Kickers,” and “Hillbilly Heroin” before they adopted abuse-deterrent features in 2010.
“In my district at the height of this problem the most dangerous job in eastern Kentucky was not coal mining, it was driving a Fed Ex or UPS truck, being robbed by people desperate and hooked on OxyContin. Pharmacies were being raided for pills; once serene small-town communities overridden with crime,” he said.
The FDA recently approved a generic variant of OxyContin to be made available next month that will not include an anti-tampering formula. Rogers, who has formerly testified to the FDA to limit distribution of painkillers, called on Congress to pass the legislation before the April 15 release date.
“If the FDA will not act boldly then the Congress will,” he concluded.
The STOPP Act would not apply to patients reliant on the effected drugs for chronic pain and end-of-life reasons. It would also grant the FDA the ability to waive pharmaceuticals deemed critical, or if there is no tamper-resistant alternative.
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