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OxyContin: Pain Relief vs. Abuse

Are worries over abuse having an impact on the drug's legitimate use as a painkiller?

The Backlash of OxyContin Abuse continued...

"The war on drugs has become a war on legal drugs, on patients who take them, and on doctors who prescribe them," Serkes tells WebMD.

The Association of American Physicians & Surgeons has issued a warning to doctors: "If you're thinking about getting into pain management using opioids as appropriate, don't. Forget what you learned in medical school -- drug agents now set medical standards. Or if you do, first discuss the risks with your family."

Libby, who is writing a book entitled The Criminalization of Medicine: America's War on Doctors, says OxyContin can be safer to take than nonsteroidal anti-inflammtory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin. "OxyContin does no damage to internal organs, but NSAIDs irritate the stomach lining, liver, and other organs."

Pinsky says, "If you had cancer you would thank God OxyContin exists. Unfortunately there's a huge social movement vilifying it as an evil product of drug companies. It's total nonsense. The drug itself is not bad. It's a great medication, but it has to be used by skillful clinicians."

Finding Balance

It's a challenge to balance the needs of chronic pain patients, health care providers, the chemical dependency treatment community, and law enforcement. But efforts are under way. The Pain & Policies Study Group at the University of Wisconsin Paul P. Carbone Comprehensive Cancer Center issues annual progress report cards evaluating states' policies regarding the use of opioid analgesics in pain management. The concern is that cancer pain is often undertreated, and opioids like OxyContin are essential.

Evaluation scores reflect a balanced approach in which law enforcement practices to prevent diversion and abuse do not interfere with the medical use of opioid analgesics in treating pain. In the group's 2006 report, it was noted that policies adopted in the last decade by 39 state legislatures and medical boards addressed doctors' concerns about being investigated for prescribing opioid pain medications.

The report concludes: "Despite a growing effort by policymakers and regulators, the fear of regulatory scrutiny remains a significant impediment to pain relief and will take years of further policy development, communication, and education to overcome."

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Reviewed on June 19, 2007

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