Monday, July 06, 2009

Banning Stuff is the New Education

Last week a federal advisory panel recommended banning America's most popular and effective prescription pain pills, including Percocet and Vicodin.

It's no surprise that these pain relievers are considered dangerous. They contain powerful, habit-forming narcotics like oxycodone and hydrocodone. But that's not the issue. Percocet and Vicodin also contain acetaminophen — you know, Tylenol, that "harmless" over-the-counter pain reliever we pop like candy at the least sign of a headache, sore throat or general malaise.

It turns out that Tylenol isn't all that harmless. Overdoses kill more than 400 people each year and send 42,000 to the emergency room with acute liver failure. And so-called "combination pain killers" account for most of those overdoses.

"The FDA panel is not saying the drugs in Vicodin are bad," said one expert. "They are saying that tying [opioid narcotics and NSAIDs] together is wrong."

By adding acetaminophen to narcotics, combination drugs provide better pain relief with lower levels of narcotic. They are great for short-term use, such as after surgery.

Patients who take these drugs for chronic pain, however, build up a tolerance to the narcotic. As they take more and more, they also take more acetaminophen, and are at risk of liver damage.

Instead, Fishman said, doctors should prescribe the narcotics and acetaminophen separately. More trouble, but a safer option. (Mercury News)

So basically, instead of teaching people the right way to use a drug, the suggestion is just to ban it altogether.

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