Column: Why OxyContin should be approved for children

The Food and Drug Administration allowed the prescription of OxyContin for certain children 11 years of age or older back in August and has received considerable backlash. (Be.Futureproof/Flickr)

Imagine a child, perhaps a younger sibling or a cousin, in the hospital. They are in excruciating pain after having undergone surgery or from some other disease or affliction. Over the counter medications such as Tylenol or Aspirin are simply ineffective. The child needs something, anything, stronger just to get a few hours of sleep and to alleviate the agony of the day.

The physician finally recommends something deeper from the vast arsenal of medications – Oxycodone, better known by the brand name OxyContin. You’ve heard the horror stories about the drug, the addictions, abuse, misuse and even the overdose and death. But your heart aches from the intolerable pain suffered by the child. Would you give permission for the doctor to prescribe this powerful opiate to take away the child’s pain?

The Food and Drug Administration allowed the prescription of the powerful narcotic painkiller for certain children 11 years of age or older back in August and has received considerable backlash. Such criticisms come from lawmakers and officials contending with soaring rates of opioid addictions and abuse in their own districts, according to The New York Times. Hillary Clinton lambasted the F.D.A.’s decision, calling it “absolutely incomprehensible” and molding the issue into a brick in her political platform. But is it really so incomprehensible? It is easy to criticize from afar when you are removed from the suffering and screams of children in pain. What is incomprehensible is the agony such kids must face.  

The heart of the issue lies in the possibility that the F.D.A. will approve widespread prescriptions of the powerful drug to younger patients. Honestly, the rise in the amount of the drug circulating throughout the country probably wouldn’t be considerable as the drug has been prescribed off-label by physicians to young patients in extenuating, excruciating circumstances for years now. If anything, approving prescriptions will actually render such treatments safer as physicians will now have “information about how to do it appropriately,” says Dr. Stephen Ostroff, acting commissioner of the F.D.A. 

Is such outrage really justified then? OxyContin has been in use as a reliable painkiller for years, just under the noses of officials. Now, the practice is being brought into the light. More than these outspoken lawmakers and public officials, the F.D.A. and doctors prescribing the drug are well versed in the ramifications of its misuse.

According to The New York Times, Dr. Kathleen A. Neville, a pediatric oncologist at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, believes that “just because OxyContin has been abused or prescribed inappropriately doesn’t mean [they] should deprive the children who need the drug.” Therein lies the truth at heart of this murky controversy: there are children who absolutely need this drug. 

The dangers of the drug are reflected in more stringent labeling, which clarifies that OxyContin should only be prescribed for children aged 11 years or older in cases of severe pain who have been on an opioid pain killer for at least five days prior. But for all the good intentions and precautions of the F.D.A. comes the potentially unscrupulous motivations of the drug’s manufacturer, Purdue Pharma.

According to The New York Times, Dr. G. Caleb Alexander, director of the Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness at Johns Hopkins, believes that “this approval allows Purdue Pharma to market and promote this product for use in children, and the obvious concern is this approval will change the pattern of use.”

While the potential risks of a rise in opioid addiction and abuse among youth are a legitimate concern, they are outweighed by the tangible benefits of OxyContin.  The child suffering after surgery or from invasive cancer is not concerned with the risks down the line. Those risks are nothing more than numbers and percentages to concerned parents and doctors. What is real is the near certainty of relief that can be afforded by OxyContin—relief from a child’s agony of severe pain and suffering.


Vinay Maliakal is associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at vinay.maliakal@uconn.edu.