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Dangerous painkillers now approved for patients age 11 and older

While pharmaceutical companies provide an invaluable public service by developing and manufacturing new medications, it is widely recognized that objective safeguards need to be in place. This is because drug companies are driven by the potential for profit rather than public safety and health.

It is the job of the Food and Drug Administration to protect public safety and health by placing limits on pharmaceutical companies. This means scrutinizing new drugs, controlling how drugs are advertised/marketed and remaining objective in the face of heavy lobbying and borderline bribery. The FDA doesn’t always get things right, however, and many use the nation’s opioid epidemic as an example.

When drug companies first sought FDA approval for opioid painkillers (Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, etc.) in the 1980s and 90s, they touted the drugs as highly effective and very safe. Opioids were going to be the panacea to treat and manage most types of physical pain. It didn’t take long to realize, however, that opioid painkillers can be highly addictive, leading to drug dependence and a risk of fatal overdose. Many blame over-prescription of opioids for the rise in heroin use and heroin-related deaths (the drugs produce a very similar high).

Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies continue to make hefty profits off of these dangerous drugs, and continue to push for their expanded use. Even more unfortunately, the FDA now seems to be in collusion with them. Recently, the FDA approved the use of OxyContin for children who are as young as 11 years old.

The agency defends its decision by saying that doctors are already prescribing it to some young patients even though it has not been FDA-approved for that group, a practice called off-label prescribing. It is legal for doctors to make-off label prescriptions, but illegal for drug companies to market drugs for conditions other than those the FDA has granted approval for.

For these and other reasons, the decision to approve prescription painkillers for children seems especially irresponsible. Drug companies may now try to market to doctors of younger patients, not to mention that FDA approval is often seen as a tacit endorsement of a given drug.

Prescription painkiller addiction is an epidemic responsible for far too many deaths and ruined lives. While the dangers of opioids are well documented and widely known, they will continue to be widely used and abused until or unless the FDA enacts tighter controls and other reasonable reforms.

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