Governor Peter Shumlin of Vermont wrote in a New York Times op-ed on Monday that he was “horrified” by The Food and Drug Administration’s recent approval of the narcotic painkiller OxyContin for kids as young as 11. Vermont is one of many states across the country ravaged by opioid addiction in in the last decade—a crisis so severe that Shumlin devoted his entire 2014 State of the State address to it. “We know that even if prescribed with the best of intentions, expanding the availability of these drugs in general has terrible consequences,” he wrote in the op-ed. “It can lead to high rates of abuse, the use of other opioids such as heroin and, too often, death.”
OxyContin and Duragesic—an opioid pain medication containing fentanyl—are the only long-acting painkillers approved for children. The FDA approved OxyContin for kids ages 11 to 16 who need “daily, round-the-clock, long-term” pain relief for which there is no alternative, said Sharon Hertz, a physician with the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.
One doctor who welcomed the approval was Justin Baker, pediatric oncologist and hospice and palliative medicine doctor at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Having additional long-acting painkillers, he said, “is going to be tremendously helpful for treating children with cancer pain or pain at the end of life.”
The problem is prescribing OxyContin to children with short-term medical needs can put them at risk for developing an addiction with severe, long-term effects, Phoenix House’s Chief Medical Officer, Andrew Kolodny, M.D., told USA Today. He added that the FDA did not appoint an advisory panel to discuss the risks and benefits of approving the painkiller for children, a process traditionally used when the agency faces a controversial decision.
Dr. Kolodny is one of many in the medical community warning about the potential outcomes of the approval. “Among adolescents who are prescribed OxyContin, a small but significant number are going to become addicted,” said Scott Hadland, a specialist in adolescent medicine and substance abuse treatment at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
This approval comes after The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called the rising rate of addition to opioids—a class of drug including prescription painkillers and heroin—an epidemic fueled by a sharp increase in prescribing. In 2012, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers, enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills, according to the CDC. In addition, it is common for people addicted to prescription painkillers to switch to a cheaper alternative—heroin; between 2010 and 2013, heroin-related deaths tripled in the United States.
Source: USA Today –