Drugmakers, health insurers, lawmakers are debating how best to treat the epidemic of opioid-related overdoses and deaths.
The debate has raged for months.
Now, two leading senators, Rand Paul and Tom Coburn, are introducing legislation that would require drugmakers to give patients and prescribers information about the drug’s risks and benefits.
The Coburn-Paul proposal comes after an Associated Press analysis of federal data shows that prescription drug overdose deaths jumped nearly 4,000 percent in the first five months of 2018 compared with the same period in 2017.
In the first quarter of 2019, the numbers were 1,000% higher.
Coburn and Paul are proposing to give prescription drug makers the ability to disclose more information on the risks of the drugs they make, including how many of those people die.
In a statement, Coburn called it a “good first step” toward “restoring public confidence in the safety of our nation’s prescription drugs.”
“I’ve always believed that every drug should be used for the patient, not the doctor,” Coburn said in the statement.
“We’ve been working on this for a long time.
It’s time for a change.”
Cobalt, the company that makes OxyContin, said the proposal would allow for more meaningful data sharing with the public and pharmaceutical companies.
“There is no doubt that the data should be made available to all interested parties, including prescribors, patients, and law enforcement and government agencies,” said Robert V. DeBenedetti, the CEO of Cobalt.
“It’s a win-win for everyone, and it will help to provide a much-needed dose of transparency.”
But many critics say that’s not enough.
“If you are going to have transparency, you must also have access,” said David Kastel, director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
“This is the sort of transparency that we’ve been waiting for.”
While many states and some cities have made it easier for patients and prescription drug companies to buy the drugs, some states have taken other steps, like requiring pharmacies to display warnings on drug packaging that mention the potential for addiction.
That’s a step that drugmakers say could increase the number of overdose deaths.
But many states, including Colorado and Oregon, have not done so.
“The state of Oregon, which is one of the most progressive in the country, has no plans to do anything with the prescribing or distribution of prescription opioids,” said Tom Smith, director for health policy at the DrugPolicy.org, a group that advocates for drug policy reform.
In California, the state’s attorney general is also reviewing the issue.
“While we do not support requiring prescriberers to display these warning labels, we do believe that requiring them to do so would be appropriate in order to prevent abuse of opioids,” Kathleen Pitzer said in a statement.
Cases of opioid overdose are rising in California, a state that has a history of drug abuse.
The state is seeing a spike in the number and types of overdoses, with an estimated 11,000 new deaths in 2018, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The AP’s analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that a quarter of Americans have tried prescription painkillers.
It also found that at least a third of Americans use opioids at least occasionally.
More than 30 million Americans are estimated to have used prescription opioids in 2018.