While every drug consumed comes with a list of side effects, pain-relieving medications and sleeping pills are the most lethal, courtesy their addictive nature. Lately, the use of opioid painkillers and sleep-inducing drugs has skyrocketed with Americans using 80% of the drugs available worldwide. These drugs, without a doubt, offer specific benefits to patients; however, they are habit-forming. This increases the risk of drug abuse. Pharmaceutical companies play a huge role in making these drugs available in the market, and they often use unethical tactics to achieve their numbers.
While it is inappropriate to blame pharmaceutical companies for making profits, a huge responsibility lies with them in curbing drug abuse, which is a huge ‘pain-point’ for the United States.
The Risks to Those Involved
Modern-age medications are economical and the most effective in treating (and managing) various leading diseases; however, they are being abused at large. The adverse effects of drug abuse go beyond the patient. They can cause destruction in the lives of the patients’ families and to all those involved.
- Patient and Family: The drug epidemic leaves countless lives in shambles. The strong urge to obtain drugs causes trauma and financial stress in the family. When children observe adults involved in drug abuse, they are at a high risk of becoming emotionally unstable.
- Healthcare Professionals: A recent survey by the National Safety Council showed that a 99% of physicians over-prescribe medications, leading to misuse of prescriptions. Failure to go through the prescription guidelines provided by federal officials can seriously affect the physician’s practice. Moreover, he/she will have to manage numerous challenging cases of overdose that are associated with a high risk of disability and mortality. Increased death records can earn a bad name for the hospital and its healthcare team.
- Pharmaceutical Companies: Companies marketing addictive drugs can rake in billions of dollars. However, they get caught up in controversies and lawsuits. This damages their brand equity and they lose credibility in the long-term. Lawsuits cause bankruptcy and the elimination of shareholder profits. While it may not seem lucrative for companies marketing these drugs to minimize the risk of addiction, they should hold up the cause to prevent heavier losses in the future.
5 Strategies to Fight Drug Abuse
The existing landscape of capital punishment in the US is putting a check on drug misuse. Apart from this, the pharmaceutical industry should proactively join hands with doctors and patients to curb this lingering concern. Here are five strategies to curb drug abuse.
- Improve Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP)
The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program is quite effective in detecting potential doctor shoppers, while allowing the legitimate use of medicines. It is a state-run electronic database that collects and analyses data related to controlled substances from doctors and pharmacists. The PDMP offers critical information and hence, efforts must be made towards expanding its use, standardizing the program and promoting real-time data entry. Pharmaceutical companies can partner with healthcare establishments in these efforts.
- Increase Awareness about Drug Abuse, Treatment Options, and Testing Techniques
Physicians and patients are at the forefront of the fight against drug abuse. Thus, they need to be adequately educated about the legitimate use of drugs, the recommended doses, and the various drug-testing techniques. Various tests are available for keeping a close watch on illicit drug consumption by patients. TestCountry is one such diagnostic service firm that offers a wide range of easy-to-use testing kits that are approved by the FDA and other authorities in this field.
Pharmaceutical firms can design prescriber-training tools that educate doctors about the managing the disorder, appropriate treatment options, medication selection, dosage, duration, side effects, follow-up, and discontinuation. Patient awareness posters and leaflets pertaining to this matter will also help in reducing the potential for abuse.
- Increase Access to a Range of Treatment Options
The advances in the field of medicine offer a wide range of treatment options for a particular disorder. For example, opioid medications are used for management of pain. However, non-opioid medications that can also be used for alleviating pain. These can be prescribed more often. In case opioids are necessary, certain overdose reversal agents must be made accessible to manage critical cases. Drug companies, therefore, must work towards the ease of availability of these medications.
- Develop Abuse Deterrent Formulations (ADF) and Alternate Treatment Options
ADFs are formulation options for a drug so as to deter or discourage drug abuse. Abuse-deterrent properties make habits like crushing tablets to snort the content and dissolving the drug to inject it more difficult or less effective. Drug companies are coming up with such formulations with the objective of reducing drug misuse. Till date, the Food and Drug Administration has approved seven such formulations for opioid painkillers. These drug formulations carry the same warning labels as other drugs in the category but are expected to deter the misuse of addictive medications.
- Formulate Ways to Combat Drug Diversion
Drug diversion refers to the transfer of controlled drugs from the patient to another person for illegitimate use. Drug diversion not only increases the burden of cost due to doctor-shopping and other forms of frauds but also spreads the risk of drug abuse to other families. Pharmaceutical companies should be realistic in terms of setting goals for their products and employ ethical methods of promotion. They should work on maintaining adequate stock of controlled drugs with registered pharmacies only. This will discourage the widespread pain clinics that offer legitimate services but unlawfully provide these controlled drugs on a cash-only basis.
Given the rampant drug abuse in the country, there is a need to redouble the effort to address this public health challenge. A balanced approach needs to be taken, as that can ensure suitable access to the prescribed drugs for genuine patients, and reduce their potential misuse. Pharmaceutical companies, along with various other stakeholders, must come together to tackle this social concern.