MONDAY, July 9 (HealthDay News) -- As part of its efforts to curb the abuse of narcotic painkillers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is requiring drug makers to educate doctors about the risks of long-acting and extended-release forms of the drugs.
"Prescription-drug abuse is our nation's fastest-growing drug problem," FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg said during a Monday afternoon press conference.
Commonly prescribed drugs that come in longer-acting forms include oxycodone, morphine and fentanyl.
The continuing-education programs will be based on FDA-created blueprints. The agency expects the more than 20 companies that make these drugs to provide grants to firms that specialize in medical continuing education. These firms will, in turn, develop and administer the programs under FDA supervision and provide them to doctors for free.
Although all opioid painkillers carry risk of abuse, overdose and death, the extended-release and time-release forms of the drugs are particularly risky. Because they act in the body over longer periods, they are more likely to cause problems, Hamburg said.
"The number of people harmed by these long-acting or extended-release opioids due to misprescribing, misuse and abuse ... continues to increase dramatically," Hamburg said.
In 2008, nearly 15,000 Americans died from overdoses of these drugs. In 2009, there were more than 15,500 deaths from opioid painkillers -- almost four times as many as in 1999, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition, more than 2 million emergency-room visits in 2010 involved abuse or misuse of prescription drugs -- almost half of all drug-related visits. Of these visits, more than 15 percent involved opioid medications, Hamburg said.
The drugs are widely prescribed. It is estimated that nearly 23 million prescriptions for extended-release and
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