The White House on Tuesday unveiled a multi-agency plan aimed at reducing the?pidemicof prescription drug abuse in the U.S. including anFDA-backed education program that zeros-in on reducing the misuse and misprescribing of opioids.

The toll our nation'sprescription drug abuse epidemic has taken in communities nationwide is devastating, said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.We share a responsibility to protect our communities from the damage done by prescription drug abuse.”

The plan is aa collaborative effort involving agencies of the departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, Defense, and others and is intended to provide a national framework for reducing prescription drug abuse and the diversion of prescription drugs for recreational use.

FDA Opioid Strategy

In concert with the White House plan, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is announcing a new risk reduction programcalled a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategyfor all extended-release and long-acting opioid medications.

Opioids are synthetic versions of opium that are used to treat moderate and severe pain.

FDA experts say extended-release and long-acting opioids?ncluding OxyContin, Avinza, Dolophine, Duragesic, and eight other brand names?re extensively misprescribed, misused, and abused, leading to overdoses, addiction, and even deaths across the United States. FDA says a 2007 survey revealed that more than half of opioid abusers got the drug from a friend or relative.

Opioids such as morphine and oxycodone?re used to treat moderate and severe pain. Over the past few decades, drug makers have developed extended-release opioid formulas to treat people in pain over a long period.

Widespread Problem

FDA estimates that more than 33 million Americans age 12 and older misused extended-release and long-acting opioids during 2007?p from 29 million just five years earlier. And in 2006, nearly 50,000 emergency room visits were related to opioids.

"Opioid drugs have benefit when used properly and are a necessary component of pain management for certain patients, but we know that they pose serious risks when used improperly?ith serious negative consequences for individuals, families, and communities," says FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.  

FDA will also require the risk management plan to include a way to determine if the education programs are helping to reduce problems associated with long-acting and extended-release opioids, as well as allowing patients who need opioids to get them.