FDA Panel Urges Ban of Pain Drug
Experts Recommend Stopping Sale of Darvon, Darvocet
Jan. 30, 2009 -- An FDA advisory panel narrowly voted Friday to recommend
that a popular pain drug used in dozens of
products should be pulled from the market.
The drug, called propoxyphene, has been sold in
U.S. pharmacies for more than 50 years and today is used in dozens of generic
pain medications. Two brand-name versions of the drug,
Darvon and Darvocet, are used by millions
of patients each year, according to the FDA.
The panel vote was 14-12 in favor of a recommendation to halt sales of the
drugs. The FDA officials say it will take them at least several weeks to decide
whether to ban propoxyphene from the market.
"It's not a very clear-cut picture," Sharon Hertz, MD, deputy
director of the agency's analgesia drugs division, told reporters. "It's
not straightforward that it should or shouldn't come off the market."
But at the same time, monitoring in Florida and nationally by the FDA
suggests the drug may play a role in increasing the risk of suicides and
accidental deaths. The agency collected reports of more than 1,400 deaths in
people who had taken the drug since 1957, though experts stressed the figure
does not prove the drug was the cause of death in all cases.
"I would say, little 'b', big 'r' for this drug. That's little benefit
and lots of risk. And that's unsettling, says Ruth Day, PhD, a member of the
panel from Duke University who voted to remove the drug.
Most other experts said they thought the risk of a drug containing
propoxyphene was probably relatively small. But they also worried that there
are few studies showing that it is more effective than other drugs that may be
Propoxyphene is a narcotic opioid drug. It "looks like it offers placebo
benefits with opioid risks," says Sean Hennessey, PhD, a panel member and
epidemiologist from the University of Pennsylvania.
But several experts warned that removing Darvon, Darvocet, and other
propoxyphene-containing drugs could cause disruptions for pain patients. They
cautioned it could drive patients to other pain medications like OxyContin.
"Every drug you're talking about that's going to deal with pain has
difficulty," says Mary Tinetti, MD, a professor of medicine at Yale
University. "There is the possibility that the drugs that would take its
place would cause at least as much harm in some people."
The FDA considered the issue of propoxyphene after the watchdog group Public
Citizen petitioned to have the drug removed. The agency initially did not
respond, and the group sued the government to do a review.
Health authorities in the U.K. ordered a phased removal of propoxyphene in
2005. The drug is now almost completely off the market there.