They make the painkillers that are being abused by an increasing number of Americans, and critics say it’s time drug manufacturers take responsibility for their role in the nation’s fastest growing drug addiction.
“Nobody is reaching out to the pharmaceutical companies that are causing this problem,” said Kristin Jacobs, a commissioner in Broward County, Fla., where thousands of Kentuckians get the prescription drugs that help fuel their addictions .
But officials from drug companies and law enforcement say it’s not easy for drug makers to stop people from misusing their products to get high.
Sharon Brigner, deputy vice president for the trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said drug companies are cooperating with law-enforcement efforts to root out wrongdoers and taking such steps as educating consumers and physicians.
They’re also reformulating their drugs to make them harder to snort or inject.
Kevin Wiggins of Endo Pharmaceuticals in Newark, Del., which makes the painkiller Opana, said the rampant abuse is giving narcotic painkillers a bad name and is distracting from the mission to help legitimate patients.
“As a drug company, our first priority is patient safety and that products are used as prescribed,” Wiggins said. “We take very seriously” legal drugs being used for illegal purposes.
Although they’re not foolproof, safeguards exist along the drug supply chain to curb abuse.
Manufacturers and any entity that distributes controlled substances, such as the painkiller oxycodone, must register with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
Each year, after getting applications from drug makers, the DEA sets production quotas based on the expected need. For example, this year’s production quota for oxycodone manufactured for sale is 105.5 million kilograms, up from 94 million in 2009 and 70 million in 2008.
DEA-registered companies must keep records of their controlled-substance transactions. More than 1,000 manufacturers and distributors report to a DEA database, which tracks drugs from manufacturer to retailer.