NU Online News Service, April 23, 3:05 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON–A House bill that has drawn attention and some support from insurance groups to restrict the number of prescriptions issued for the pain killer OxyContin appears likely to face a difficult challenge to secure passage, Congress watchers said.

The bill is H.R. 4956, the “Stop Oxy Abuse Act of 2010.” It was introduced by Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., and Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky. The bill revises the U.S. Food and Drug Administration classification to ensure that the drug is prescribed only for severe pain, its intended use, instead of its current classification for use in treating moderate-to-severe pain.

Curbing the drug’s use is of importance to the workers’ compensation insurance industry because OxyContin and similar prescription drugs are a heavy cost to the comp system.

Insurers also contend they inadvertently pay for illicit drug use through bogus claims, making insurance fraud a major financier of the trend.

Bruce Wood, associate general counsel and director of Workers’ Compensation for the American Insurance Association, said that although the focus of the legislation is keeping narcotic pain killers out of the hands of “young people,” the use of “narcotics for pain in treating workplace injuries has been on the rise over the past few years and is an escalating cost in our nation’s workers’ compensation system.”

“We would be supportive of initiatives that would restrict the use of these drugs to what was initially intended,” he said.

Rep. Bono Mack said in a statement that prescription drug abuse was “skyrocketing across the country, and it’s essential that we do everything we can to limit the availability of these potentially deadly drugs and to better monitor who is getting them.

But Ira Loss, a pharmaceutical regulatory analyst at Washington Analysis, said enactment of the bill is unlikely. Pragmatically, he said, the bill has no sponsor from the majority party in Congress.

Moreover, he said, the FDA is in the process of drafting a comprehensive Risk Evaluation and Minimalization Strategy, or REMS, to deal with all opiods, and there is already one for OxyContin itself.

And, Mr. Loss said, the FDA two weeks ago approved a new version of the drug that is designed to make it more difficult for addicts to use.

The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud in a recent weekly bulletin took note of the bill and the increasing abuse of narcotic prescription drugs. It said insurers inadvertently pay for much of the illicit drug use “through bogus claims, making insurance fraud a major financier of the trend “