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Physicians and other prescribers will not be required to take educational courses under a new government plan aimed at reducing prescription drug abuse. The Wall Street Journal reports the plan does compel the makers of extended-release painkillers to fund courses for doctors and provide safety information to patients.

Companies that make extended-release painkillers must provide grants to make such courses available for free, or at a nominal cost, the article notes. These continuing education programs must begin by March 1, 2013. Drug companies will not be involved in the course design or curriculum.

Companies are expected to train at least 60 percent of prescribers of extended-release opioids by 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates. The training will be aimed at teaching doctors to provide the proper dose of relief to patients in pain, while keeping the drugs out of the hands of dealers or people addicted to the pills.

Michael C. Barnes, Interim Executive Director of the Center for Lawful Access and Abuse Deterrence, told the newspaper the classes are not likely to be taken by those physicians who need them the most. “The people who are going to take those courses are the prescribers who are already diligent. What we need to do is get to those prescribers who aren’t already diligent,” he said.

The courses are part of the FDA’s risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS) for extended-release and long-acting opioids.

“Misprescribing, misuse, and abuse of extended-release and long-acting opioids are a critical and growing public health challenge,” FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., said in a news release. “The FDA’s goal with this REMS approval is to ensure that health care professionals are educated on how to safely prescribe opioids and that patients know how to safely use these drugs.”

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