Why Testing OxyContin on Kids Is a Good Thing

What Women Really Think
July 16 2012 1:57 PM

Why Testing OxyContin on Kids Is a Good Thing

2087739
The more we know about OxyContin, the better.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

When Purdue Pharma announced that it would begin studying the safety of painkiller OxyContin in children aged 6-16, cynics noted that the study qualifies Purdue for a six-month extension of its patent, which could be worth an extra $1.4 billion in sales. Sure, Purdue’s motives may be self-interested, but its decision—whatever the reasons for it—is a sign that a law to encourage companies to test drugs on children is working. (The law has been in effect since 1997, but according to a 2011 FDA document, more drugs were tested on children in the past five years than in the 30 years before that.)

Most medications are not specifically tested on children. Children suffer from many of the same ailments as adults, but drugs may affect them differently. Which is why, in an ideal world, all medication that might be used on children would be tested on pediatric patients. Otherwise, pediatricians have to extrapolate from adult data, which can be risky.

Drug tests on children are difficult and expensive, and so drug companies tend to skip them, unless there’s a big pediatric market. So, the FDA came up with a way to entice companies to do the right thing: In exchange for doing the studies, the FDA grants the company an extra six months of patent protection on all formulations of the product. And Purdue took the bait.

Advertisement

Good. Though it’s rare, OxyContin is already being prescribed to children. (Less than 1 percent of OxyContin 'scripts were written for kids last year.) The kids in Purdue’s study suffer from painful conditions ranging from severe burns to cancer and sickle cell anemia. Only kids who need round-the-clock pain relief are eligible. If they weren’t taking OxyContin, they’d probably be on morphine or another narcotic painkiller.

“It looks to me like a raw, crass, last-gasp exploitation of a drug that has been synonymous with misuse, abuse and harm to patients,” ethicist Dr. Arthur Caplan told the New York Times, regarding Perdue’s decision to do pediatric tests.

Caplan is referring to the fact that OxyContin is a popular street drug—but that’s a red herring. It’s also a very effective painkiller. Contrary to popular belief, patients who are prescribed opiate drugs for pain are unlikely to become addicted. Less than 1 percent of pain patients over 30 with no history of substance abuse get hooked on narcotics. Those who do succumb tend to have a history of substance abuse. If anything, we’d expect 6-year-olds to be at even lower risk of addiction than adults because the playground set is less likely to have pre-existing substance abuse issues—and their medication is more likely to be doled out and controlled by a parent.

The New York Times argues that not enough is known about the long-term effects of OxyContin in adults and frets that opiates might have developmental effects on children. These are legitimate concerns, but that’s an argument for more research, not less. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

  News & Politics
Over There
Sept. 22 2014 1:29 PM “That’s Called Jim Crow” Philip Gourevitch on America’s hypocritical interventions in Africa.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 22 2014 3:33 PM Killing With Kindness My in-laws want to throw me a get-well-from-cancer bash. There’s no way I can go.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 9:17 PM Trent Reznor’s Gone Girl Soundtrack Sounds Like an Eerie, Innovative Success
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 22 2014 12:15 PM The Changing Face of Climate Change Will the leaders of the People’s Climate March now lead the movement?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.