Whitesburg KY
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Reclassify pain drug

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, the Republican from Kentucky’s 5th District, has joined another Republican congressman from Appalachia – Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia – in asking the federal Food and Drug Administration to reclassify the painkiller OxyContin so that only people in severe pain can be prescribed the drug.

In light of the recent guilty pleas by the maker of OxyContin and three of its current and former executives to charges of misleading the public about the drug’s risk of addiction, the request is well-timed and appropriate. OxyContin is a more powerful and addictive drug than its maker promoted it to be.

But of course we already knew that, didn’t we? OxyContin, a trade name for oxycodone, has been so widely abused in this region that it has earned the nickname “hillbilly heroin.” From 1996 to 2001, the number of oxycodone-related deaths nationwide increased 400 percent while the annual number of OxyContin prescriptions increased nearly twentyfold, according to a report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. In 2002, the DEA said the drug caused 146 deaths and contributed to another 318.

A number of those deaths have occurred in this region, where the abuse of prescription medicine – aided at least initially by rogue doctors who operated “pill mills” – reached epidemic proportions.

Purdue Pharma L.P., its president, top lawyer and former chief medical officer will pay $634.5 million in fines for claiming the drug was less addictive and less subject to abuse than other pain medications, U.S. Attorney John Brownlee said after the recent guilty pleas. The plea agreement came just two days after Purdue Pharma agreed to pay $19.5 million to 26 states and the District of Columbia to settle complaints that it encouraged physicians to overprescribe OxyContin.

Brownlee said Purdue learned from focus groups with physicians in 1995 that they were worried about the abuse potential of OxyContin. The company then gave knowingly false information to its sales representatives that the drug had less potential for addiction and abuse than other painkillers. …

Rogers and Wolf cited the guilty pleas in asking FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach to reclassify OxyContin so it can only be prescribed to those with severe pain. Currently, those with moderate pain can get the drug.

OxyContin can be extremely effective in easing the agony of those in severe pain, particularly those in the final stages of cancer. For them, the drug can make their final days more bearable.

The problem is that too many people who probably could have had their pain eased with a less potent drug have been prescribed OxyContin and become addicted to it – often with tragic results. Further limiting OxyContin’s availability is in order. Indeed, it’s overdue.

– The Daily Independent, Ashland

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