Michael Botticelli, has backed a ban on the high-strength opioid painkillers at the heart of the US overdose epidemic now claiming about 50,000 lives a year.
Botticelli supported a petition to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by families of opioid victims, doctors and health organisations seeking the removal of the powerful painkillers from pharmacy shelves.
Activists see the “citizen petition”, which legally requires a response – Congress passed legislation in 2007 that requires the FDA to rule on citizen petitions within 180 days – as a test. It will show whether the FDA is finally turning away from policies that critics contend have contributed to the epidemic by putting the financial interests of pharmaceutical companies ahead of public health.
Among the drugs the activists want withdrawn are higher strength versions of OxyContin. Its launch 20 years ago with a marketing campaign claiming that it was neither addictive nor dangerous kickstarted the opioid epidemic, which swept out of Appalachia and across the country. Both claims were false and the manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars to settle legal actions. Three of its executives were also convicted of crimes over the false claims.