Your Health

Morning Rounds: More Headaches For Pain Relievers

Pain relievers took another hit this week, with the FDA announcement that two more prescription narcotics — Darvon and Darvocet (a form of the drug containing acetaminophen — must carry a strongly labeled, boxed warning about the risks of overdose.

Meanwhile, analgesic creams and rubs like Bengay or IcyHot that contain the aspirin-cousin "salicylate," may heat up the skin in a distracting way, but the evidence that they relieve pain is murky at best, according to scientists who reviewed them.

Interestingly, it's not because Darvon (sold generically as propoxyphene) is such a strong opiate, but because it is relatively weak that problems arise, doctors say. Patients who don't get relief from the prescribed amount may be tempted to take more, which increases the risk of serious side effects, such as heart problems and fall-inducing dizziness.

The Washington Post notes that of the 22 million prescriptions for Darvon and Darvon-like drugs prescribed every year, "nearly 40 percent...are used by people 65 and older."

The FDA decision was a middle path. Some consumer advocacy groups thought the drug should be phased out completely, as the European Union's FDA-equivalent decided last month.

But the FDA's Sharon Hertz notes that Darvon and its equivalents are less likely to cause the constipation of codeine, or the confusion and heavy sedation of hydrocodone, the narcotic in Vicodin. As she said at press conference yesterday, all current pain-relievers have "significant liability."

Bottom line advice: Read the label. Read the label. Read the label. And don't take more of any drug than the label or your doctor prescribes. But that's tough medicine for people in chronic pain.

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