America’s Opioid Crisis Worsened by Shortages, HHS Task Force Says

June 7, 2019

America’s opioid crisis may be worsening—but there also may be a critical shortage of pain relief drugs, a government task force has concluded.

HHS convened a Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force two years ago in an effort to come to grips with the overdose epidemic that took 47,600 American lives last year. In its long-awaited report, the task force calls for a host of reforms but also worries that patients in excruciating pain aren’t getting the help they need.

“Current widespread shortages of several key parental opioids used for fast and reliable analgesic effects, including morphine, hydromorphone and fentanyl, are affecting hospitals and cancer centers nationwide, leading to compromised acute pain management in the critical care and postoperative settings,” the 116-page report states.

It’s gratifying that the FDA formed a drug shortages team, but the agency should also find alternative sources for pain-relief medicines to avoid “critical” shortages, the task force recommends.

Patient advocates see the report as another sign of welcome relief after years of a crackdown on opioid prescriptions. Richard A “Red” Lawhern, who leads the Alliance for the Treatment of Intractable Pain, argues that the government’s own data shows that doctor prescriptions were a red herring from the beginning.

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