The Food and Drug Administration is considering requiring doctors to prescribe an overdose reversal drug with prescription painkillers such as OxyCodone, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced Tuesday.
The overdose antidote, known as naloxone, can save the lives of people who've suffered overdoses. The FDA may require the drug to be prescribed every time a patient receives an opioid to treat pain, or only if they receive a particularly high dose.
The move has been pushed by the makers of Narcan, a nasal spray version of the drug that people can use at home. The drug also comes in the form of an auto-injector known as Evzio, another form that people can use on someone who has overdosed even if they're not in the medical field.
A growing number of states already have the co-prescribing requirement. Under the laws, doctors are to prescribe naloxone when they give patients a certain dose of pills for drugs such as Percocet, Vicodin, OxyContin, and Tramadol or if patients have ever overdosed before.
But naloxone is not a treatment for addiction. After people are revived, it can cause them to go into painful withdrawal and in some cases become violent. People who use opioids may overdose and be awakened several times over the course of their addiction, and sometimes multiple doses are needed to save someone.
[Opinion: Why we support increasing access to naloxone]
Health officials have pointed to a need to not only to expand access to naloxone, but also to medications that help to treat addiction, such as buprenorphine, as well as to ongoing treatment.
Opioids help to temporarily relieve pain but are highly addictive. Advocates of giving more people access to naloxone point out that sometimes people take too many doses because they have lost track of their medications, or children get into their parents' medicine cabinet.
The FDA will hold a meeting Dec. 17-18 to discuss other ways to make the antidote more available.
The approach is one of several that the Trump administration is taking to reduce deaths from opioids, which claimed more than 40,000 lives in 2017. The spread of addiction began with the over-prescribing of painkillers, which led people to develop addictions to cheaper, more deadly alternatives such as heroin. The bulk of deaths now come from illicit fentanyl, a stronger opioid than heroin that is made from chemicals.
CDC data released Tuesday showed a slight dip in opioid overdose deaths for six months in a row. The data show that deaths have decreased by 2.8 percent since their peak, but it's not yet clear whether this is a reversal in the crisis that will continue, or a temporary drop.
[Also read: CDC director calls for destigmatizing addiction to confront opioid crisis]