Despite warnings that the most popular pain relievers, cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) inhibitors, can damage hearts, stomachs, and skin, many Americans plan to keep taking them, saying the relief is worth the risk. Recent recalls have tainted the images of trusted remedies and have forced physicians to replace them with confusing alternatives, prompting many patients to ration what is left of medications that have worked for them.
Approximately 75 million Americans1 in 4are living with chronic pain, according to the National Pain Foundation of Englewood, Colo. With so many patients seeking relief, physicians continue writing prescriptions for COX-2s, even after an FDA advisory panel in February warned that all drugs in the class had the same safety problems. Even though similar warnings were issued for older pain remedies, known as nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), prescriptions are still being written for those as well. NSAIDs were the standard pain medication for years, until COX-2s were introduced and marketed as easier on the stomach than older painkillers.