In a few weeks, on August 31, the world will recognize International Overdose Awareness Day, which takes place each year and aims to raise awareness of overdose and to reduce the stigma of a drug-related death. Most importantly, the day spreads the message that the tragedy of overdose death is preventable.
In the United States, particularly, the challenge of prescription drug abuse is multifaceted and requires a multi-pronged approach that ensures that patients with legitimate medical needs receive the treatments they need. Innovative biopharmaceutical companies are committed to developing medications to appropriately treat acute and chronic pain, and medications to treat addiction and address opioid overdose.
A few examples include:
Abuse-deterrent formulations (ADFs): ADFs help prevent opioid abuse by impeding the delivery of their active ingredient or by making the abuse of the drug more difficult or less rewarding. Going well beyond making capsules harder to crush and snort, ADFs include chemical barriers that either reduce the euphoria associated with abuse or cause an unpleasant effect if a higher-than-suggested dose is consumed.
Non-opioid analgesics: Providing pain relief without the use of addictive opiates, these medications include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, novel treatments that target pain signals in the brain and more-targeted approaches to numbing pain and preventing inflammatory processes. Currently, there are 40 non-opioid analgesics in development for acute and chronic pain.
Medicines to treat addiction: These treatments work in combination with other forms of recovery and serve as an important part of any comprehensive treatment plan to help patients who are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. While there are currently three approved medicines for opioid-use disorder, biopharmaceutical companies are working to develop innovative ways to treat addiction, including vaccines that guard against opioid addiction and other novel approaches.
Medicines to reverse overdose: Finally, although there are treatments that currently are effective in reversing an opioid overdose when delivered in a timely manner, there is a need for devices and delivery approaches that are easier to use and provide more potent effects.
In addition to pursuing innovative ways of preventing and treating addiction and overdose, it is imperative that we ensure patients are able to access what is currently available, uninhibited by financial barriers or the barriers that result from stigma related to drug addiction. Potential coverage and access barriers resulting from insurers and pharmacy benefit managers must be addressed, to ensure they are not contributing to the opioid crisis by impeding access to abuse-deterrent medicines, as well as medications to treat addiction and overdose.
Across the country, America’s biopharmaceutical researchers are improving our understanding of pain and addiction, and working to use that knowledge to provide better patient outcomes and reduce the stigma associated with substance abuse disorders. International Overdose Awareness Day reminds us that the tragedy of prescription drug abuse and overdose is preventable. Thanks to the hard work of researchers today, we are moving closer to that goal.