Ed White has had a devilish time getting his painkiller prescription filled for intense back pain since a federal crackdown on opioid sales battened down the pharmacy shelves at the Walgreens near his home in Port Richey, Fla. Across the state in Fort Lauderdale, Maureen Kielian just put her son into a residential treatment facility to try to break his life-threatening opioid addiction. To suggest that the federal authorities have been too aggressive amid an opioid epidemic killing 29,000 people a year is absurd, she said. Faced with these competing stories, Congress has whipsawed between ensuring access to narcotic painkillers for people like Mr. White and addressing the addiction epidemic linked to those drugs.
Amid a raging opioid epidemic, there’s a plea for more treatment options. The Food and Drug Administration expects to have a decision on one by May 27. It’s an implant. Four rods, each about the size of a match stick, inserted in the upper arm. This new device, called Probuphine, delivers a continuous dose of an existing drug, buprenorphine but with better results, says implant maker Braeburn Pharmaceuticals.
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Scientists and doctors say the case is clear: The best way to tackle the country’s opioid epidemic is to get more people on medications that have been proven in studies to reduce relapses and, ultimately, overdoses. Yet, only a fraction of the more than 4 million people believed to abuse prescription painkillers or heroin in the U.S. are being given what’s called medication-assisted treatment. One reason is the limited availability of the treatment. But it’s also the case that stigma around the addiction drugs has inhibited their use.