Experts focused on finding ways to curb the number of overdoses in the U.S. say there's one very important person missing from President Donald Trump's commission—any representative from the federal agency regulating prescription drugs.
“There's quite a bit the Food and Drug Administration could be doing and hasn't done,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of opioid policy research at Brandeis University, referring to stricter federal regulation of prescription painkillers, which physicians have often used to treat common chronic conditions such as back pain and fibromyalgia.
Trump last week introduced a high-profile group that is tasked with reporting on ideas and progress toward curbing the number of people who die from drug overdoses every year. The commission includes New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—who has led several statewide efforts to address heroin addiction—U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Defense Secretary James Mattis and HHS Secretary Tom Price.
But Kolodny and other addiction experts say the FDA could help tighten regulations over drugmakers, ostensibly stemming the tide and intensity of products that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified as having heavily contributed to the overdose epidemic. After years of heavy criticism by patient advocacy groups, prescription painkillers now carry stronger warning labels and undergo a more stringent review.
Kolodny says those are good first steps, but he wonders whether Trump's nominee to head the FDA, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, can make greater inroads given his deep ties to the pharmaceutical industry. Gottlieb serves on the boards of three drug companies and his venture capital firm funds 150 others. If he's confirmed, Gottlieb must step down from those boards and sell any shares in those companies. He has said he will recuse himself from any decisions that might result in the apperaance of a conflict of interest.
Kolodny isn't so sure Gottlieb is the right person to lead the FDA's anti-opioid abuse efforts. “I'm worried that we'll continue to see FDA policies that are 20 years old that really allow opioid makers to continue to pour fuel on a fire.”