At White House, Prescription Drug Protesters Call for New FDA Chief

Protesters demand the resignation of the FDA commissioner in front of the White House in Washington, Sept. 28, 2014. Image credit: ABC News

WASHINGTON - Hundreds gathered outside the White House today to demand tighter regulation of prescription painkillers and the removal of Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg.

"Hey hey, ho ho, Peggy Hamburg's got to go!" protesters chanted outside the White House. Hamburg, who goes by Peggy, has led the FDA since 2009.

The chant accompanied cries that President Obama has not done enough to counter opiate-painkiller abuse and addiction, even though his Office of National Drug Control Policy has recognized prescription drug abuse as a growing problem.

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Demonstrators marched up Pennsylvania Avenue and stood outside the White House. Many held signs displaying names, faces, and death dates of loved ones.

"We are here because we lost our children to heroin overdose, but they started with prescription drugs," Susan Klimusko of Simi Valley, Calif., said, standing beside a new board member of the group she founded, Not One More. Her son Austin died at the age of 23 after becoming addicted to heroin, she said.

Oxycontin has become "like candy in the streets" because the government has failed to regulate it more strictly, Klimusko said.

"It's awful," she said. "We need our government to take care of this."

The rally was organized under the name "Fed Up!" and sponsored by addiction-care treatment providers and anti-painkiller-abuse advocacy organizations. Earlier this week, the coalition called for Hamburg's ouster in an open letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell.

HHS spokesman Tait Sye told The Associated Press that opioid abuse "is a serious issue and one that the secretary is focused on."

"Secretary Burwell appreciates hearing from stakeholders on the important issue of prescription opioid abuse, and looks forward to responding to their letter," Sye said, the AP reported.

The coalition has criticized the FDA for approving a new and powerful painkiller, Zohydro, last fall.

Testifying last June, Douglas C. Throckmorton, the deputy director for regulatory programs at the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, told Congress that the FDA has focused on labeling and prescriber education, issuing an open letter in 2013 calling on all opioid prescribers to have "adequate training in opioid therapy."