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Too Few Get Best Migraine Drugs

Survey: Potentially Addictive Drugs Too Often Prescribed for Migraines
WebMD Health News

May 18, 2007 -- Too many patients get potentially addictive, under-effective drugs for migraine -- and too few get the most effective migraine drugs, a new survey shows.

The Harris Interactive online survey, commissioned by the National Headache Foundation, polled 502 adult migraine patients in the U.S. The survey also polled 201 U.S. doctors who treat migraine headaches, including 101 neurologists and 100 primary care doctors.

Surprisingly, the survey shows that one in five migraine sufferers are taking potentially addictive opioid or barbiturate medications when they get headaches. Just more than half of migraine patients take the newer, preferred class of triptan drugs for their headaches.

"I was surprised that triptans are not being used more than they are, and that so many doctors are prescribing barbiturates and opiates," Brian M. Grosberg, MD, director of the inpatient headache program at Montefiore Headache Center, Bronx, N.Y., tells WebMD.

The survey shows that too many doctors have as much to learn as their patients when it comes to migraine treatment, says Donald B. Penzien, PhD, director of the head pain center at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

"Clinical guidelines could not be more clear: Triptans are the first-line treatment for migraine," Penzien tells WebMD. "If doctors were doing a better job of getting and giving education, more patients would be starting with these drugs."

The new survey showed:

  • 60% of triptan users, but only 42% of opioid/barbiturate users, say their medicine relieves their migraines "extremely well" or "very well."
  • 80% of doctors say they are at least somewhat satisfied with the side-effect profiles of triptans. But only 17% of doctors say this about opioids, and only 12% say this about barbiturates.
  • Patients taking opioids and barbiturates for migraine are more likely than those who take triptans to report that migraines "always" limit their daily activities.
  • An astonishing 36% of migraine patients who take opioids or barbiturates don't know that these drugs are potentially addictive.

Migraine Treatment -- Addictive Drugs Sometimes Needed

Triptan drugs include Amerge, Axert, Frova, Imitrex, Maxalt, Relpax, and Zomig. They are specifically approved by the FDA for the treatment of migraines.

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