Off-label ‘risky treatment’ for backpains on the rise in the US

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The New York Times has recently reported the continuing and steady increase in the use of an anti-inflammatory drug for back pains, which has long been tagged as a risky treatment.

“The number of Medicare providers giving steroid injections along the spine, including Depo-Medrol and other drugs, had increased 13 percent in 2016 from 2012. The number of Medicare beneficiaries receiving these injections is up 7.5 percent. The Department of Veterans Affairs reported a 17 percent increase in the injections from 2015 to 2017,” the report read.

The New York Times also reported that the total sales of Depo-Medrol grew from $133 million in 2015 to $185 million in 2017, or about an alarming 35 percent.

Depo-Medrol or Methylprednisolone Acetate is an injectable suspension used to treat pain and swelling that occurs with arthritis and other joint disorders.

RX List.com said that among the common side effects of the use of Depo-Medrol are: nausea, vomiting, heartburn, headache, dizziness, trouble sleeping, appetite changes, increased sweating, acne, or injection site reactions (pain, redness, swelling).

Side effects may also include rise in blood sugar, and a lowered ability to fight infections.

Experts said such expensive procedures are not needed by most patients complaining of back pains. Even Pfizer, the pharma giant behind the anti-inflammatory drug, has already asked the Food and Drug Administration to stop the use of Depo-Medrol as painkiller, adding that “it must not be used by the intrathecal, epidural, intravenous or any other unspecified routes.”

A Kaiser Health News report said that among the risks of an off-label use of Depo-Medrol are: blindness, stroke, paralysis and even death. Still, the news report noted that the FDA has refused to issue a ban on such off-label use. Instead, the New York Times said that the FDA has “toughened the label warning.”

“With people trying to take away opioids now, we are opening up another doorway for people to overutilize other options that can be helpful with the right doctors and the right patients,” West Virginia anesthesiologist Dr. Brian Yee said.