FDA approves sufentanil for adults with acute pain


The Food and Drug Administration on Nov. 2 approved sufentanil (Dsuvia) for managing acute pain in adult patients in certified, medically supervised health care settings.

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Sufentanil, an opioid analgesic manufactured by AcelRx Pharmaceuticals, was approved as a 30-mcg sublingual tablet. The efficacy of Dsuvia was shown in a randomized, clinical trial where patients who received the drug demonstrated significantly greater pain relief after both 15 minutes and 12 hours, compared with placebo.

“As a single-dose, noninvasive medication with a rapid reduction in pain intensity, Dsuvia represents an important alternative for health care providers to offer patients for acute pain management,” David Leiman, MD, of the department of surgery at the University of Texas, Houston, said in the AcelRx press statement.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, commented on the approval amid concerns expressed by some, such as the advocacy group Public Citizen, that the drug is “more than 1,000 times more potent than morphine,” and that approval could lead to diversion and abuse – particularly in light of the U.S. opioid epidemic.

In his statement, Dr. Gottlieb identified one broad, significant issue. “Why do we need an oral formulation of sufentanil – a more potent form of fentanyl that’s been approved for intravenous and epidural use in the U.S. since 1984 – on the market?”

In particular, he focused on the needs of the military. The Department of Defense has taken interest in sufentanil as it fulfills a small but specific battlefield need, namely as a means of pain relief in battlefield situations where soldiers cannot swallow oral medication and access to intravenous medication is limited.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration

Dr. Scott Gottlieb

Dr. Gottlieb made clear that sufentanil was meant only to be taken in controlled settings and will have strong limitations on its use. It cannot be prescribed for home use, and treatment should be limited to 72 hours. It can only be delivered by health care professionals using a single-dose applicator and will not be available in pharmacies. It is only to be used in patients who have not tolerated or are expected not to tolerate alternative methods of pain management.

“The FDA has implemented a REMS [Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy] that reflects the potential risks associated with this product and mandates that Dsuvia will only be made available for use in a certified medically supervised heath care setting, including its use on the battlefield,” Dr. Gottlieb said.

However, he recognized that the debate runs deeper than how the FDA should mitigate risk over a new drug, and “as a public health agency, we have an obligation to address this question openly and directly. As a physician and regulator, I won’t bypass legitimate questions and concerns related to our role in addressing the opioid crisis,” he said.

Find Dr. Gottlieb’s full statement on the FDA website.

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