Popular Painkillers May Be Banned

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Dear Pharmacist,

I am stressed out that I may not be able to get my pain medication, Vicodin.  I’ve taken it for years, following a work accident. I’m not addicted. I really have pain but the pharmacist told me that it’s going off the market. Please tell me he’s wrong.  I can’t live without it. –P.T.  Belleview, Florida

Answer:  We won’t know the fate of these drugs for months. Currently, the FDA is considering banning narcotics like Vicodin and Percocet, two popular painkillers because they contain acetaminophen (Tylenol). They are also suggesting that limitations be set on the dosage of acetaminophen (Tylenol) in many over-the-counter (OTC) medications.   You see, consumers don’t realize that OTC drugs contain acetaminophen and unknowingly combine the painkillers with cough/cold remedies, sleep aids, and fever reducers that also contain acetaminophen.  This taxes the liver and may cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and yellowing of the skin or eyes.  In fact, overdoses from acetaminophen are the leading cause of liver failure, which, each year makes some 50,000 people sick, and proves fatal to about 200. This is why the FDA is intervening.

They are suggesting that Tylenol, 1000 mg be sold by prescription only, while lower dosages remain available over-the-counter.   I agree, this needs to happen because it protects YOU. But I disagree with the ban on Vicodin or Percocet. These drugs help people with severe pain.  The problem is not with the narcotics, it’s the unwitting misuse by consumers who don’t pay enough attention to labels, and then accidentally overdose.  May I remind you that pharmacists are there for you?  Just call and ask if you can combine two medications before popping the pills.

The chatter at the FDA has triggered panic in many people who genuinely need pain relievers for some quality of life.  Drug-seekers, who exaggerate their level of pain to physicians (to get their monthly stash), are also in a tizzy.  Put it this way, if Percocet and Vicodin disappear, millions of lives will become unbearable for one reason or another. There will be a stampede to doctors’ offices to get alternative medications like morphine, Oxycontin or Dilaudid.

I doubt the drug makers of Percocet and Vicodin will go down without a fight because they produce the most popular, and effective pain medications ever made. My guess is they will offer to reformulate their medications, and take the acetaminophen out of the formula.

Not to upset you any more, but another extremely popular pain-killer, Darvocet N-100 (propoxyphene/acetaminophen) is also under fire.  It apparently has been linked to accidental overdoses and suicides, so makers have to strengthen warnings. Don’t worry yet, there are many other medications available, and a good pain specialist will know what to prescribe. If you depend on medications to control pain, also consider alternative pain control methods, such as biofeedback, acupuncture, massage, chiropractic or Reiki.

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