CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Recently The Charleston Gazette ran a series on the emerging epidemic of prescription drug abuse. In a state with the highest rate of drug-related deaths, highlighting prescription drug abuse is an important public service.
As the chief medical officer for the Pharmaceuticals business within Covidien, a leading health care products company, we take very seriously our responsibility to help reduce prescription drug abuse and misuse. Accordingly, I want to share with West Virginians the collaborative steps we and others on the federal, state and local levels are taking to stem this growing epidemic and provide useful information to help them take action against the problem.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has provided education for parents and teens, with campaigns such as Above the Influence (www.abovetheinfluence.com) and Parents: The Anti-Drug (www.theantidrug.com).
Physicians in Utah created a program called Zero Unintentional Deaths in response to the news that prescription-related overdose had become the leading cause of accidental death in the state. The program's founders partnered with the state's Department of Health to increase awareness among prescribers and spark more frequent use of the state's prescription drug monitoring system. In the first 18 months of the program, Utah experienced a plateau and then a small decline in overdose-related deaths. Based on this success, the American Pain Foundation adapted the program for national use under the name PainSAFE (www.painfoundation.org/painsafe/).
At the local level, the Department of Health in Wilkes County, North Carolina, collaborated with community members, industry and providers to create Project Lazarus. Representatives of this program visited every doctor's office in the county to provide information and training on the state's prescription monitoring program. Today, Wilkes County leads North Carolina in registering physicians for the monitoring system (www.projectlazarus.org/).
Last summer, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration held its first-ever advisory committee hearing on proposed strategies to monitor manufacturers of prescription pain medications. The result of this process will be an industry-wide Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) requirement for long-acting (or extended release) opioid pain medications. Covidien is committed to going above and beyond the REMS requirements by adding voluntary tools for our products following an evidence-based evaluation of their individual risks and benefits.
In September 2010, Covidien launched the C.A.R.E.S. (Collaborating and Acting Responsibly to Ensure Safety) Alliance -- a coalition that seeks to reduce opioid pain medication misuse and abuse and increase responsible prescribing and safe use of all these medications, regardless of manufacturer, by collaboratively developing and sharing tools and resources for healthcare professionals, patients and community and healthcare organizations. The C.A.R.E.S. Alliance was born out of the realization that while government-mandated approaches to tackling prescription drug abuse were on target-they were only a start. We saw the need for a voluntary effort that truly engages every sector.
At (www.caresalliance.org), patients and their families find tips for the safe use and handling of their medications, and physicians and pharmacists receive tools for prescribing, screening and assessing patients. As the C.A.R.E.S. Alliance grows, we plan to add more information and resources for groups in all aspects of healthcare.