An expert panel, convened to review the health pros and cons of opioid medicines, in a bid to stave off a dependency crisis similar to the one that has already afflicted the USA, has met for the first time this week to begin its work.
The Expert Working Group (EWG) of the Commission on Human Medicines (CHM) will undertake a comprehensive independent scientific review of all available evidence on the use of opioid medicines in the UK.
It will draw on international best practice, to make sure the information for patients and health professionals helps curb the over-prescription and misuse of these medicines, amid growing concerns about their overuse and misuse.
It will consider the current data on the use of prescribed and over-the-counter opioids in the UK, and look at whether current safeguards are working or whether further regulatory measures are required.
It will also scrutinise the health pros and cons of these drugs, particularly for conditions other than cancer, taking account of alternatives.
And it will make recommendations for regulatory action to better support appropriate use of prescription opioids, such as relevant changes to the Summary of Product Characteristics and Patient Information Leaflet, product labelling and packaging, and any other risk containment measures.
The EWG is made up of experts from a wide range of disciplines, including pain management; general practice; nursing; pharmacy; psychiatry and substance abuse; anaesthesia; toxicology and pharmacology; geriatrics; paediatrics; rheumatology; and epidemiology. It will also include a member of the public.
It is expected that the review will work promptly in line with the regulatory process, and as such will engage with relevant parties from across health and voluntary sectors, as well as addiction support groups, to advise on how information on the use and risks of opioids can best be improved.
Dr June Raine, director of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s Vigilance and Risk Management of Medicines Division, said:
“In response to the growing concern internationally and in the UK about overuse and increased prescribing of opioid analgesics, we are seeking expert advice on the benefits and risks of opioid medicines, including best practice for risk minimisation.
“We will be listening to patients, stakeholders, and relevant experts, and working across the health sector to make sure the warnings on opioid medicines are consistent, clear, relevant and represent the known risks of tolerance and addiction.”
Professor Jamie Coleman, chair of the Opioid Expert Working Group, commented:
“No one should be unaware of the potential risks of opioid medicines.”