In recent news, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has approved administration of OxyContin for children as young as 11. OxyContin is the extended release form of oxycodone, a narcotic pain reliever that, in adults, has been used for pain management in situations of chronic pain or when long-term treatment is needed. The approval for children came in August of 2015, following the release of clinical trial data provided by the maker of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma LP, that indicated the drug’s safety for children with prior opioid history. This approval is for prescribing in situations where the child experiences chronic, long-term pain (such as in situations such as cancer or surgical recovery) when other medications are insufficient. On one hand, this is good news for children suffering from debilitating pain, allowing them to be more comfortable. However, this announcement has raised a red flag for many.

Why is this a problem?

Many people believe that this move is cause for significant alarm. The country is currently in the midst of a brutal heroin epidemic; CNN reported in January of this year that while in 2012, there were 5,927 reported heroin-related deaths in the United States, this number jumped to 8,260 in 2013. There is also evidence to suggest that many people that progress to heroin use have a history of abusing prescription opiates. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAP) released a report in 2015 with the following statistics:

  • 1.9 million Americans suffer from prescription opioid abuse or dependence
  • 75% of opioid addicts switch to heroin as a cheaper alternative
  • Adolescents and young adults that are prescribed opiates doubled between 1994 and 2007

Given these statistics, many wonder whether the FDA approval of the highly addictive Oxycontin for children might exacerbate the opiate epidemic in the coming years.

Not Necessarily Cause for Concern

However, the ruling doesn’t actually change much in the grand scheme of things. As the FDA noted in an interview with Sharon Hertz, M.D. (Director, Division of Anesthesia, Analgesia, and Addiction Products, Office of New Drugs, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research), this approval was not meant to increase the amount of OxyContin prescribed to children. Doctors are permitted the practice of “off-label prescribing”, which means they are able to use their best judgment to administer medications (outside FDA approval) when the situation necessitates. So, the administration of OxyContin to children suffering from chronic pain conditions is not new. However, prior to this approval and release of clinical trial data, physicians had to use adult safety and dosing information to guess at how best to administer this drug to children in the aforementioned extenuating circumstances. The FDA believes that with proper parental monitoring and safety measures, this can drastically improve the quality of life for many sick and suffering children.

So what is the answer?

Unfortunately, in this situation, there may be no clear cut answer. Is it possible that administering OxyContin to children might increase their odds of prescription painkiller or heroin abuse later in life? Certainly. But is this possibility strong enough to keep children from getting a medication that could ease pain and discomfort, allowing them to live fuller, happier lives? That’s debatable. And the bottom line is, while the FDA ruling certainly produced some shocking headlines, it really shouldn’t change prescribing habits of physicians, and will just set more clear guidelines for safe administration of OxyContin to children when a doctor deems it necessary.

If you or someone you know has a problem with Oxycontin or other prescription medication, call the admissions team at Serenity Acres to determine if inpatient treatment might be able to help.

References:

  1. Kounang, N. (2015, January 14). Heroin deaths up for 3rd year in a row. CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/14/health/heroin-deaths-increase/
  2. American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2015). Opioid Addiction Disease- 2015 Facts & Figures [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.asam.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/opioid-addiction-disease-facts-figures.pdf
  3. http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/NewsEvents/ucm456973.htm