Governor Promotes Drug Awareness in Massachusetts

by Mike Miller June 3, 2014

At we like to report on the efforts made by individuals who are educating the public on harmful drugs and using their power to keep people safe. The Governor of Massachusetts is fighting the good fight.

Governor Deval Patrick is trying to ban the sale of Zohydro in Massachusetts and that puts the state at the forefront of a raging debate about whether the powerful new painkiller deserves a place in American medicine. In October, 2013 the Food and Drug Administration approved the pill, which can treat severe pain without some of the side effects of other painkillers. But legitimate concerns remain about whether the drug could add to the epidemic of opioid addiction. As reported in

In becoming the first state to ban the drug, Massachusetts is demanding that the manufacturer first develop a more abuse-resistant version that can’t be crushed and snorted. This happened after years of abuse by OxyContin users.

It is no easy task to overrule the FDA — in effect, nullifying federal health. The FDA exists to assess those difficult trade-offs between safety and access, and it believes that Zohydro is not more harmful than other opioid painkillers, and may improve care for some patients.

Patrick’s action have been spurred by the spate of deaths caused by overdoses of prescription painkillers and heroin. The state recently allocated $20 million to treatment, sped up the implementation of a mandatory prescription-tracking system, and eased barriers that have prevented some first responders from carrying a drug that can save the life of people who’ve overdosed.

Those are all good steps. But the inescapable problem is that as long as opioid painkillers remain part of medicine, the goals of preventing addiction and managing pain will always push in opposite directions. In the long run, the best approach is to encourage the development of less dangerous, non-opioid painkillers to replace drugs like OxyContin and Zohydro.

That’s not something the state can do by itself, but bans like Patrick’s are one of the few ways the government can nudge the drug industry into action. The FDA has tried to coax pharmaceutical companies into devoting more research resources to non-opioid painkillers, with limited success. The carrot approach may only go so far. If drug makers begin to fear state regulators, perhaps they’ll put more effort into developing alternatives. Abuse of prescription painkillers has contributed to a public health crisis in the entire country.

What are your thoughts?

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