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Painkiller Safety

Perhaps as many as one in every five American adults will get a prescription for a painkiller this year, and many more will buy over-the-counter medicines without a prescription. These drugs can do wonders — getting rid of pain can seem like a miracle — but sometimes there’s a high price to be paid.

Remember the heavily marketed COX-2 inhibitors? Rofecoxib, sold as Vioxx, and valdecoxib, sold as Bextra, were taken off the market in 2004 and 2005, respectively, after studies linked them to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

The nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like aspirin, ibuprofen (sold as Advil and Motrin), and naproxen (sold as Aleve) seem like safe bets. But taken over long periods, they have potentially dangerous gastrointestinal side effects, including ulcers and bleeding. Kidney and liver damage are possible, too. More recently, some of the NSAIDs have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Low doses of aspirin (usually defined as 81 mg) is an exception and is often prescribed to lower the risk of heart and stroke.

Even acetaminophen, which is often viewed as the safest pain drug and a low-risk alternative to the NSAIDs because it doesn’t have their gastrointestinal side effects, comes with a caution about high doses possibly causing liver failure. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Your Pharmacist’s Role In Safe, Effective Prescription Drug Treatment

This is a guest post from Dr. Mary Lynn McPherson.

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Rescuing Patients On Darvon Or Darvocet With Zero Tolerance For Pain

On November 19, 2010 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called for a halt in the use of the popular opioid pain relievers Darvocet and Darvon. These products contain the opioid propoxyphene, and it has been used to treat mild to moderate pain for over 50 years. However, concerns have long been raised about the effectiveness of this drug, and the risk of death (accidental and suicide). Darvon and Darvocet were banned in Britain in 2005, followed by the European Union in 2009. Over the past 30 years, the FDA has received numerous petitions to take these drugs off the U.S. market.

Research has shown that Darvon and Darvocet are no more effective for treating moderate pain than over the counter drugs like acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen. Unfortunately, Darvon and Darvocet cause a lot more side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, nausea and vomiting, hallucinations and constipation (all pretty typical of opioids used to treat pain). But, the side effects don’t stop there. The data is in, and it’s not a pretty picture. A recent study requested by the FDA showed that when used at the recommended doses, Darvon and Darvocet cause significant changes in the electrical activity of the heart, which can lead to a fatal irregularity in your heartbeat, even after only short-term use.

Among those advocating for the removal of these drugs from the market were pharmacists. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists approved a policy in 2007 advocating for the withdrawal of Darvon and Darvocet from the U.S. market, and recently testified at the FDA Advisory Committee to this effect. As an often overlooked member of the medical team, pharmacists have a vital role to play in providing safe and effective treatments. We serve as the last line of defense against improper or unwise prescribing of drugs — especially those for pain. We are drug experts, and we can help patients and doctors switch from Darvon or Darvocet to safer and more effective treatments. Read more »

Prescription Use On The Rise, More Awareness Of Side Effects Needed

Eighty eight percent of Americans 60 years or older take at least one prescription drug and more than two-thirds of this age group take five or more, according to a report by the National Center for Health Statistics. Spending for prescription drugs totaled $234.1 billion in 2008 — more than double what was spent in 1999.

The National Center for Health Statistics excerpted elements of its National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys to prepare the report:

Gu Q, Dillon CF, Burt VL. Prescription drug use continues to increase: U.S. prescription drug data for 2007-2008. NCHS data brief, no 42. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2010.Other key findings include:

– Over the last 10 years, the percentage of Americans who took at least one prescription drug in the past month increased from 44 percent to 48 percent. The use of two or more drugs increased from 25 percent to 31 percent. The use of five or more drugs increased from 6 percent to 11 percent. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

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