The news has been full of the recent FDA findings on a new set of drugs to help relieve pain. These drugs have been approved for re-release, but it is unclear whether Vioxx will be available again and whether physicians will feel comfortable prescribing Celebrex and Bextra for many of their patients.
What happened to Celebrex and Vioxx?
Celebrex, Vioxx, and Bextra are all non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, pronounced en-said-z), similar to drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen, that are available over the counter (OTC). Celebrex, Vioxx and Bextra, (sometimes called Cox-2 inhibitors) however, use a slightly different method to achieve the same effect as their OTC cousins; this new method was supposed to limit the side effects some people experience on OTC drugs, including stomach and intestinal problems and allergic reactions. It was thought that because these drugs were less likely to cause such problems, they might be safer for patients with painful chronic conditions (like arthritis) to use for long periods of time.
Unfortunately, some studies of Cox-2 inhibitors suggest that while they don't cause the sorts of side effects of other NSAIDs, they may create a greater risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack) or stroke. For people already at risk for these diseases (including those who have already experienced a stroke or heart problem), taking these drugs over the long run may significantly increase the risk of heart problems.
Now What Can I Do To Get Pain Relief?
Until a final decision has been made on each of these drugs, what can your healthcare provider do to help you with pain management? Here are important pieces of information to think about in determining what next steps to take:
* The Cox-2 inhibitors were not shown to be more effective than other NSAIDs, like naproxen. If you've been on or thinking about trying Vioxx or another Cox-2 inhibitor, you may be able to use an older anti-inflammatory drug. Naproxen, one of the older NSAIDs, may be an anti-inflammatory drug that actually lowers heart attack risk.
* Some people started on a Cox-2 inhibitors because they had a stomach ulcer or other risk factors for stomach or intestine bleeding (for example, people on blood thinners), which may be made worse by older anti-inflammatory drugs. For some people who are at risk for bleeding, other options like acetaminophen may be an option.
* There are lots of other medical options. Steroids can be used for shorter periods of time to manage inflammatory pain from diseases like arthritis and lupus. Opioids (drugs that resemble opium), such as oxycodone, codeine, and hydrocodone (Vicodin) can help with pain management, but they can have serious side effects, and some of them can be addictive, so working closely with your healthcare worker is key to determine if these will work for you. In addition, some antidepressants may help with chronic (long-term) pain, though the way this works isn't yet known
* New procedures may be of assistance to you. Nerve block therapy (in which certain nerves are temporarily anaesthetized) can relieve pain temporarily. "Implantable "technologies, like spinal cord stimulation (SCS) systems and implantable drug delivery systems, do seem to help some people for whom other pain relief methods don't work.
* If you aren't getting the relief you need (with or without the use of Cox-2 inhibitors), you may want to consult a pain specialist. Some large hospitals (such as Stanford University) have departments devoted to pain management. The American Board of Pain Medicine and the PainConnection (at painconnection.org) can help you locate a pain specialist who can work with your other healthcare professionals to put a new treatment plan together for you.
Harris, G., "F.D.A. Official Admits 'Lapses' on Vioxx," New York Times, March 2, 2005
Krames, E., "Implantable Technologies: Spinal Cord Stimulation and Implantable Drug Delivery Systems," http://www.painconnection.org/
Winfield, J. et al "A Primer on Pain Management: Optimal Therapy for the Patient in Pain," Medscape CME, February 2005.
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