LINCOLN, NEBRASKA – In 2003, Carrie Howard was in a serious auto accident and was given the powerful painkiller Darvocet to manager her pain. Like many people who used the drug, she became dependent, seeking out new doctors and even dentists to write her more prescriptions for Darvocet. What Carrie and so many people like her never knew is that Darvocet , as well as other drugs containing the active ingredient propoxyphene, had been heavily criticized over the years because of its high dependency and overdose risks. At the young age of 33, Carrie became one of hundreds of people who died using the drug.
An estimated 7 million Americans abused prescription drugs in 2009, and the habit kills more people than car accidents in 16 states, says Omaha state senator Gwen Howard, Carrie’s mother. Sen. Howard championed a bill in the Nebraska Legislature that would establish a statewide system to alert physicians, hospitals and pharmacists when someone attempts to obtain prescription drugs from multiple providers. Nebraska is one of the few states that does not have a tracking system for prescriptions.
Propoxyphene was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of mild to moderate pain more than 50 years ago, and had become one of the most prescribed painkillers in the country. Over the years the watchdog group Public Citizen petitioned the FDA to pull the drug because of overdose deaths and other safety issues in patients who used the drug. Despite the concerns, the FDA chose to keep propoxyphene-containing medications, such as Darvocet, on the market. Meanwhile, European drug agencies heeded the warnings and opted to ban the drug.
Late last year, after a review of data that linked propoxyphene to deadly heart rhythm abnormalities, the FDA finally pulled the drug from the U.S. market.