BY KENT RUNYON
The FDA recently approved the prescription painkiller OxyContin for use by adolescents as young as 11, but there are several things you should know. Prescription drug abuse is trickling down to children, in fact, more than 10.3 million Americans illicitly use prescription painkillers, and 1 in 10 of those users—nearly 1.2 million in total—are between 12 and 17 years old. Because the brain does not fully mature until individuals are in their 20s, teens are at greater risk for developing an addiction.
So what is OxyContin?
OxyContin is the brand name for a timed-release formula of oxycodone, a narcotic analgesic used to relieve pain from injuries, arthritis, cancer, and other conditions. Oxycodone, a morphine-like drug, is also found along with non-narcotic analgesics in a number of prescription drugs.
So why did they approve it?
FDA officials defended the agency’s decision and emphasized OxyContin is only indicated for pediatric use in severe cases requiring long-term pain management, such as for cancer, extensive trauma, or surgeries. But physicians already had the ability to prescribe opioids in acute pediatric cases. Formal FDA approval was unnecessary and may act as a misguided confirmation of the drug’s safety and efficacy for broader use.
If doctors start prescribing OxyContin for wisdom tooth surgery, athletic injuries, or other such uses, we’re likely to see more adolescents with substance use disorders and dependency. Even before the approval, research shows nearly 1 in 6 children treated for migraines/headaches is prescribed opioid medication, though use of the drug can cause the condition to become more chronic and treatment-resistant and may increase the risk for drug addiction.
It’s not even that effective
Despite the proliferation of opioid use, National Institute of Health (NIH) researchers noted limited evidence of the drug’s safety and effectiveness and reported that 40 to 70 percent of individuals with chronic pain do not receive proper medical treatment. NIH also outlined potential harms; beyond the risk of developing an opioid use disorder, prescription painkillers are associated with an increased risk of falls/fractures, myocardial infarction, and other side effects.
What you need to know
Every responsible adult should be familiar with where their pediatrician stands on prescribing opioid drugs and how they approach pain management in general. There are many resources beyond drugs. Ask your doctor what the options are for pain management for children, particularly resources beyond drugs. Do your own research. Drug ads have muddied the field, but real knowledge gives you viable choices should the need suddenly arise to deal with pain management.
Kent Runyon is the Executive Director of Novus Medical Detox Center, a Joint Commission Accredited inpatient medical detox facility in New Port Richey, Florida. Novus is licensed by the Florida Department of Children and Families and is known for minimizing the discomfort of withdrawal from prescription medication, drugs or alcohol by creating a customized detox program for each patient.
Saint Louis, Catherine. “F.D.A. Approval of OxyContin Use for Children Continues to Draw Scrutiny”; The New York Times; October 8, 2015. nytimes.com/2015/10/09/health/fda-approval-of-oxycontin-for-children-continues-to-draw-scrutiny.html
Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “CDER Conversation: Pediatric Pain Management Options”; FDA website; August 14, 2015. fda.gov/Drugs/NewsEvents/ucm456973.htm
Reuben, David B.; Anika A.H. Alvanzo; et al. “National Institutes of Health Pathways to Prevention Workshop: The Role of Opioids in the Treatment of Chronic Pain”; Annals of Internal Medicine; February 17, 2015. annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2089371