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Smaller Pill Packs a Priority for FDA

Image of a pill blister pack with some blisters empty. President Donald Trump is planning on signing bipartisan bill H.R. 6 into law next week. When this happens, the new legislation will be going into effect the week of October 22, according to Scott Gottlieb, the FDA commissioner, who recently spoke at a Politico event. The first thing his agency wants to tackle? Creating smaller pill packaging for opioids, in hopes that it will prevent people from abusing their prescriptions for acute pain.

The legislation affects Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, and other large opioid manufacturers. It will force them to create new packaging for the drug to accommodate small quantities. The provision is an effort to prevent excess pills from being prescribed. With this policy, doctors may prescribe more limited amounts of pills. This could also prevent people from keeping leftover opioids around.

“The first thing that we’re going to do is the blister packs,” Gottlieb said.

“Nobody should be getting 30 days for a wisdom tooth extraction,” Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said about the measure. He also said doctors often defaulted to 30-day prescriptions for many of the pain pills they prescribe. That’s what blister packs could change for the better. Gottlieb has been calling for smaller blister packs for opioids for at least a year and plans to move quickly once the bill becomes law.

The bill will also force the medical systems to get more organized and integrate existing digital tools and electronic prescription. Ideally, these systems would flag people with multiple orders for pain pills from multiple doctors. It should also have the capability to flag doctors who appeared to overprescribe pain pills.

“The rate of new addiction is a function of prescribing,” FDA Commissioner Gottlieb said. “This is a crisis that started in the medical setting.” Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 80 percent of people who currently use heroin first abused prescription opioids.

Every day, more than 115 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids. In 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 63,632 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States.