(WASHINGTON) — It has yet to hit the market, and already a powerful new painkiller is arousing debate among doctors specializing in pain management.
The drug is a new formulation that would allow doctors for the first time ever to prescribe pure hydrocodone to their patients. According to the National Institutes of Health, hydrocodone is already a component of 404 separate branded drugs; in each case, it is mixed with some other medication. Vicodin, a well-known example, is a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen, which is the active ingredient in Tylenol.
But should such a product even be available, particularly in light of the country’s growing battle with prescription painkiller addiction? At the center of the debate is the question of whether the possible benefits of such a pill, which would potentially carry many times the amount of hydrocodone than the amount in current combination medicines, would outweigh the risks linked to the addictive potential.
“Oh, it is very addictive,” said Dr. Lloyd Saberski, medical director of the New Haven, Ct.-based Advanced Diagnostic Pain Treatment Centers. “But so are oxycodone, Dilaudid, Demerol and morphine. Why should this product be discriminated upon more so than the other products?”
Saberski added that existing FDA regulations would protect the public from the misuse of this new drug.
Other pain management physicians say adding pure hydrocodone to the mix of addictive prescription pain drugs already available will only make the country’s painkiller abuse problem worse. One of these physicians is Dr. Joel Saper, founder and director of the Michigan Head Pain and Neurological Institute in Ann Arbor.
“I don’t think we need another opioid,” Saper said. “We need better education, more sanity, and we need to stop treating benign pain with more narcotics.”
Saper said that while it would make sense for pain management doctors to be able to prescribe hydrocodone as a painkiller without the acetaminophen in Vicodin — which can cause acute liver toxicity if too much is taken — there are currently other approaches available to doctors that allow them to treat pain with existing drugs.
Saper said that adding another drug to the mix would be a mistake in light of the country’s prescription drug abuse problem.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio
Ruth Brown, Idaho Press-Tribune
Sandee LaMotte, CNN
Dora Scheidell, KSTU
Shevaun Bryan, CNN