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Pain Management Health Center

FDA Panel Urges Ban of Pain Drug

Experts Recommend Stopping Sale of Darvon, Darvocet
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

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 safer.

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.

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