(CNN) – More than 2 million people in the U.S. are either dependent on or abusing prescription and illegal opioids to treat their pain.
A new report says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and drug manufacturers failed to properly monitor the use of one very potent opioid.
The newly released report in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals a highly potent form of the opioid fentanyl – an incredibly addictive and potentially deadly drug – was unnecessarily prescribed to an “alarming” number of patients.
The study found thousands of patients received the drug when they shouldn’t have.
Researchers said the FDA and opioid manufacturers failed to closely monitor the use of the restricted fentanyl as part of a federal program aimed at reducing abuse and misuse of the drug – and that few substantive changes were made even after officials discovered problems.
The class of fentanyl is 100 times more powerful than morphine and is highly addictive. It’s designed for cancer patients already taking opioids for pain.
Opioids bind the areas of the brain that control pain and emotions and raise dopamine levels, giving people a feeling of euphoria. Because the brain gets used to the drug, it often takes more and more of it to relieve pain.
All that can lead to dependence, addiction and overdoses.
FDA spokesman Michael Felberbaum said the agency shares the concerns raised in the study as to whether the program is "working as intended."
"The agency has been actively assessing the recommendations of our advisory committee on the effectiveness of the [program] and necessary changes," he wrote in an email to CNN.