OxyContin is a powerful narcotic that is typically prescribed for adults who are in moderate to severe pain. It’s an opioid, similar to heroin that is the long-released formula of oxycodone. It can be highly addictive and is tightly regulated as a prescription. For people who suffer from chronic or severe pain it is a potent drug that offers temporary relief.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved limited use of OxyContin for children as young as 11 years old. Children with moderate pain are sometimes prescribed smaller doses of morphine or non-opioid drugs. Fentanyl patches (Duragesic) , a synthetic opioid analgesic, is prescribed for severe pain relief to children.
Dr. Sharon Hertz, director of new anesthesia, analgesia and addiction products for the FDA, said studies by Purdue Pharma of Stamford, Connecticut, which manufactures the drug, "supported a new pediatric indication for OxyContin in patients 11 to 16 years old and provided prescribers with helpful information about the use of OxyContin in pediatric patients."
Because of OxyContin’s highly addictive properties, it is popular among addicts and drug dealers. Five years ago, Purdue reformulated the drug to make it more difficult for patients or users to crush the pills for a quick high.
Hertz noted that the FDA was putting strict limits on the use of OxyContin in children. Unlike adults, children must already have shown that they can handle the drug by tolerating a minimum dose equal to 20 milligrams of oxycodone for five consecutive days, she said.
"We are always concerned about the safety of our children, particularly when they are ill and require medications and when they are in pain," she said. "OxyContin is not intended to be the first opioid drug used in pediatric patients, but the data show that changing from another opioid drug to OxyContin is safe if done properly."
Parents, understandably, are concerned about giving their child such strong medications. Addiction and overdose are the two main worries parents specifically express when faced with the possibility of their child being put on these types of drugs. However, when children are given opioids to relieve pain, they are not seeking the "high" associated with the medication, they are given the medication in safe, consistent and controlled amounts. Generally, children look forward to reducing or stopping the medication as this indicates improvement in their pain control.
If children develop a physical dependence over several weeks, easing off the medication gradually as the pain diminishes can prevent withdrawal symptoms. Physical dependence should not be confused with addiction.
Overdose is extremely rare in children taking opioids for pain relief. If overdose does occur, it can be treated with an antidote called naloxone.
Children as well as adults sometimes need a strong drug to ease or stop severe pain associated with disease or surgery. The approval of limited OxyContin use for children gives them the benefits of pain relief when overseen and provided by the physicians in charge of their care.
Sources: M. Alex Johnson, http://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/fda-approves-oxycontin-children-young-11-n409621
Michael Jeavons, MD, http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/en/resourcecentres/pain/treatment/pages/opioids-safety-and-side-effects.aspx