Over the past decade, Oxycontin has become a staple in pain management; a go-to drug, which has helped many patients with severe acute or chronic pain. But, as our Chicago injury attorneys point out, Oxycontin also has a dark side.
Many have long been aware of the potential for abuse of the drug, both by “drug seekers” who pretend to be suffering pain to obtain a prescription, and by those who obtain the drug illegally or on the black market, then crush the tablets and use the drug for a high.
But two new problems with Oxycontin have recently emerged: (1) increased health risks for long-term users; and (2) unintended consequences of a new formulation designed to prevent abuse.
First, two new studies published in the most recent edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine reveal that Oxycontin can have serious health consequences. First, there was a study which followed 6,300 patients taking one of five pain medicines (including Oxycontin) for chronic pain unrelated to cancer over a nine-year period. The results showed that patients who took Oxycontin and certain other opioids, rather than other drugs, were more likely to suffer certain health problems. These included problems as diverse as heart attacks, fractured bones, and death, seeming to suggest that Oxycontin has a pervasive negative effect on overall health. Our pharmaceutical death lawyers are curious to see how the manufacturer will respond to this data, if at all.
Second, a study by Daniel Solomon and others looked at opioids such as Oxycontin versus non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and coxibs when used in elderly patients suffering from arthritis. The study found that those patients treating their pain with opioids were more likely to fall, more likely to suffer a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack, more likely to be hospitalized, and more likely to die (from all causes).
The second concern to emerge in recent weeks regarding Oxycontin concerns the new formulation of the drug. Purdue Pharma, the drug’s manufacturer, announced the new formulation about nine months ago, but it is only now coming into patient’s hands. The reformulation, designed to stop abuse, makes it difficult or impossible to crush the pill – when an attempt to do so is, made, the pill does not turn to powder, but instead gelatinizes.
Unfortunately, this change has been a dangerous one for many patients. Indeed, an FDA MedWatch alert has already been issued, advising physicians that patients are suffering from dangerous consequences of the new formula, including choking, gagging, regurgitation, difficulty swallowing, and the tablets becoming lodged in a patient’s throat.
The alert states that these problems are “potentially due to the swelling and hydrogelling property of the tablet,” a conclusion which it does not take an expert to reach. Our Chicago injury attorneys wonder whether Purdue was aware of these dangers before launching the reformulation – whether the reformulation was properly tested, and whether any of the test subjects reported these results. If so – or if Purdue does not take action now that it is becoming aware of the problem, the company may be liable to patient-victims in a products liability or wrongful death action.
Patients are also reporting increased side effects from the new formulation, including upset stomach and other GI problems, as well as headaches.
And these problems are compounded by the fact that the drug now appears to be less effective. Physicians and patients are reporting that many sufferers now require a higher dose of Oycontin to keep chronic pain under control. Physicians who are aware of the problem have been forced to increase patients’ dosages, or switch them to a different medication entirely, with the attendant transition problems. These physicians fear that colleagues who are unaware of the changed formulation or its results may turn away patients who are in pain, believing them to be “drug seekers” due to their sudden need for an increased dose.
We devoutly hope that all patients who were on the previous formulation of Oxycontin are able to work with knowledgeable physicians to continue effective pain management, and to ensure their safety, whatever drug they select.
For a free consultation with an experienced Illinois serious injury and wrongful death attorney at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.