Health & Medicine
When a patient is in pain–from a badly broken leg, say–a physician goes up a ladder of medications, beginning with simple aspirin or ibuprofen. By the time a narcotic like OxyContin is called on, the pain is crippling and the powerful drug provides relief. Yet the federal Drug Enforcement Administration said last week that OxyContin may have been involved in 464 drug overdose deaths in the past two years–raising a threat of tighter restrictions. Another agency, however, the Food and Drug Administration, stands by the drug as safe and effective when used as directed. Many of the deaths involved other substances, making it hard to pin the blame on OxyContin alone. Marc Hahn, president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine, says, "It's a good drug. It's potent and offers long-lasting relief." But its very benefit–a time-release formula that makes it effective for 12 hours–also makes it a dangerous substance for a drug abuser. Crushing it deactivates the time-release mechanism, so swallowing, injecting, or snorting it then produces a quick and powerful high. Timothy Bannon, spokesperson for the drug's manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, asks, "Are we going to make patients suffer because of the predatory practices of drug dealers?"
Heart and brain
Statins, the popular cholesterol-lowering drugs that prevent heart disease, may do triple disease-fighting duty. New research shows that the compounds also seem to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease and perhaps even the inflammation of multiple sclerosis. Last week at the American Academy of Neurology meeting in Denver, Boston University's Robert Green and colleagues looked back at the medication history and risk factors for about 2,600 people. Even after accounting for factors such as diet, race, and genetic risks, the dangers of developing Alzheimer's dropped 79 percent among people who had taken statins for at least a year. But don't run out and start gobbling statins, Green cautions: Researchers need to follow healthy people who take the drugs for years before anyone can say statins truly protect. The work is more a clue than a medical conclusion. Another clue comes from a lab study presented at the same meeting. It showed that statins given to cells from multiple-sclerosis patients improved the anti-inflammatory effects of a standard MS therapy, interferon. The researchers now want to test the drug's effects in people.
Rachel K. Sobel
© 2002 U.S.News & World Report Inc