Risks Of Prescription Drug Addiction And Death Should Be More Prominent On Painkiller Labels

Risks Of Prescription Drug Addiction And Death Should Be More Prominent On Painkiller Labels

On August 18, 2006, only eighteen years old and three days away from her first day in college, Emily Jackson swallowed a single OxyContin tablet, and soon thereafter died. Emily is only one of hundreds of Americans, and thousands world-wide, who have lost their lives to powerful heroin-like prescription painkillers, unaware of the devastating potential for harm from such drugs, dangers that range from prescription drug addiction to permanent injury to death.

Should we blame Emily Jackson for the accident? Certainly not. A close relative provided the pill from their own legitimate prescription. And after 3 years battling cancer and the pain of multiple surgeries, Emily was steeped in the standard medical practice that prescribes a pill for everything and anything.

Blame the relative? Certainly not as well. The relative was not some pusher trying to make a new customer by creating a prescription drug addiction. There was no way the relative could have known such a tragedy was possible.

The responsibility for Emily's tragic death lies with a system that continues to give the edge to profits rather than patient safety.

First in this scenario of guilt is the immensely wealthy Big Pharma, an industry driven more by stock values than by ensuring patient safety, or ensuring that risks are known by everyone who should know - physicians, patients and drug regulators.

In the case of OxyContin, corporate greed over patient safety was demonstrably proven recently when the drug's maker, Purdue Pharma, was fined $634 million for lying about the drug's power to bring about dependence, which has left a plague of prescription drug addiction, abuse, and ruined lives in its path.

Equally culpable is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which for years has steadfastly refused to take effective action on two vital points:

1. INDICATIONS FOR USE: The FDA has been urged by patient activist groups, elected officials and members of the medical profession to limit the indications for prescribing OxyContin, Palladone, and similar deadly painkillers from "moderate-to-severe" chronic pain to "severe only" - and only from clinically documented tissue disease.

2. LABELING: The FDA has been also been urged to insist that labels clearly and strongly spell out the real risks of heroin-like painkillers, including prescription drug addiction, permanent injury, or death from even a single dose. The labels still do not make this clear.

Law enforcement and prescription drug detox and rehabilitation centers across the country are on the front lines of the prescription drug addiction war. A baker's dozen of heroin- and morphine-like painkillers has, in the past decade and a half, become an epidemic in America, and there is no sign of a letup. Statistically, more people are falling prey to prescription drug addiction or dying from prescription drugs than all illicit street drugs combined.

Ellen and Peter Jackson, Emily's parents, told an FDA panel not long ago that the agency should not approve any new form of OxyContin. They presented statistics showing how OxyContin has led to numerous deaths.

"My daughter is one of those statistics," Peter Jackson said, "and I am asking you not to turn your back on her."

Perhaps the Jackson's weren't whistling in the wind. When Purdue presented a new formulation for OxyContin for FDA approval recently, claiming it was less prone to causing prescription drug addiction and injury, the agency refused the application, calling for more real science and less rhetoric from the drug maker.

Meanwhile, it is statistically probable that many of the thousands of Americans still using heroin-like painkillers will suffer from prescription drug addiction, and require medical drug detox to begin recovery - provided they don't die first.

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