Narcotic painkillers are now the most widely prescribed class of drugs in the country. It is estimated that they are involved in 15,000 overdose deaths each year, mainly because of abuse. Studies have linked narcotic painkillers to dangers including sleep apnea, falls and hip fractures in the elderly, and reduced hormone production.

Today, doctors and public health officials petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to alleviate the overuse and abuse of prescription painkillers by changing labeling directions on how and when doctors should prescribe these drugs.  These revisions are seen to be part of a comprehensive campaign by public health officials to call attention to the dangers of narcotic painkillers, especially when they are taken over long periods of time, or at high dosages.  “Overprescribing of opiods is harming many chronic pain patients” said Edward Covington, director of the Neurological Center for Pain at the Cleveland Clinic. Narcotic painkillers are currently approved by the F.D.A. for use in treating “moderate to severe” pain.

Narcotic painkillers fall into two categories.  The first group includes short-acting drugs like Percocet and Vicodin which are combined with an over-the-counter painkiller.  The second group includes long-acting painkillers such as Oxycontin, fentanyl, and methadone. The petitioners are asking that the F.D.A. limit the drugs’ approved usage to “severe” pain only in patients other than those suffering from cancer.  They are also asking for new labeling which would urge doctors to limit the dosages to noncancer patients, and the period of time over which they can be used.  However, even if the F.D.A. were to accept the proposed labeling changes, doctors would still be able to prescribe drugs “off label.”  Drug companies though would face restrictions in how they market their drugs……  New York Times   July 25, 2012

 

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