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Examining the State of Pain Med Development


In the wake of the major opioid epidemic, it is evident that new pain management treatment options are needed. This article explores the current state of development of pain meds and what it might mean for those who are at risk for addiction to prescription drugs.

What Is Happening in Development of New Addiction Treatments?

In February, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, the world’s biggest biotech organization, released a new report on the state of drug research on new non-opioid pain relief for addiction treatment and other diseases. What they found was that not enough research into new ways to manage pain is being done. Their damning analysis blamed pharmaceutical companies for downplaying the addictive nature of opioids and doing little to stem the rising tide of addiction to these drugs. 

The report, called “The State of Innovation in Highly Prevalent Chronic Diseases: Pain and Addiction Therapeutics,” found the following:

  • There are only two non-opioid drugs on the market for treating pain.
  • There are currently around 215 clinical studies exploring new ways to treat pain. These studies cover any pain – from migraines to cancer. 
  • The majority of these studies, at 87 percent, are concentrating their work primarily on non-opioid receptors.
  • The FDA has approved another 142 trials and 12 treatment products designed to stop opioid abuse while reducing pain.
  • However, there are only currently 15 clinical test programs focusing on addiction treatment; two-thirds focus on alcohol and smoking cessation.

What is important to keep in mind here is that only a small fraction of these studies will yield a drug that reaches the market. BioPharmaDIVE points out that the FDA approval rate is only around two percent for pain medications, generally. For other types of medications, the approval rating is 10 percent.

The Biotechnology Innovation Organization concluded:

"By aligning medical culture with industry goals in this way, many of the groups described in this report may have played a significant role in creating the necessary conditions for the U.S. opioids epidemic.”

While drug companies are continuing to offer doctors opioids and doctors are continuing to prescribe them for pain, it appears the pressure of the opioid crisis, which costs the American healthcare system around $1 trillion annually, according to BioPharmaDIVE, is beginning to make some headway with pharmaceutical companies. In early 2018, Purdue stated they would no longer aggressively market OxyContin directly to physicians, according to BioPharmaDIVE. Purdue will no longer send out an aggressive team of pharmaceutical sales reps tasked with selling OxyContin directly to doctors.

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The report concluded that companies like Purdue Pharm have made billions — while addicting millions to opioids like OxyContin.

Of course, the cynical observer will note the damage has been done and Purdue Pharma has reaped profits in the billions, while well on their way to creating millions of opioid-addicted patients straining the nation's addiction treatment centers.

While the move by Purdue is a good first step, it does little to help with sponsoring the needed clinical research to find better pain management treatment modalities that do not lead to the cycle of addiction and abuse that opioids almost inevitably cause. 

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