Darvocet Deaths – America’s Deadliest (Prescription) Drug
The Health Research Group has called propoxyphene, the active ingredient in Darvocet and Darvon, “the deadliest prescription drug in the United States.” This group, affiliated with Ralph Nader, had demanded a federal ban on the use of this embattled painkiller long before the FDA, in November 2010, finally acted to ban its use in the United States. Darvon was first introduced in 1957 and for over 20 years it was one of America’s most popular prescription drugs, consistently ranking right after Valium and Librium, generating huge profits for its manufacturers. From 1973 to 1975 there was an average of over 39 million prescriptions filled per year for this drug.
Propoxyphene problems develop
But then it started to become obvious that propoxyphene had real problems. First, propoxyphene was directly linked to 589 deaths from overdose in 23 U.S. cities. This prompted the first demand for a federal ban on the drug from the Health Research Group, arguing that propoxyphene was involved in thousands of deaths and medical emergencies each year, with many of them being due to accidental overdoses. Then in 1989, the former NFL player John Matuszak died in what was described as a “Darvon-related death,” which led to additional demands for the removal of this drug from the U.S. market.
What is propoxyphene?
Chemically, it’s related to the synthetic narcotic, methadone. It is generally prescribed for the alleviation of mild to moderate pain and comes in two forms: propoxyphene hydrochloride and propoxyphene napsylate (N-form).. The body absorbs the N-form more slowly to provide longer lasting relief, otherwise the two forms are the same. Propoxyphene is found in:
- Darvon and Darvon-N
- Darvon with A.S.A., Darvon-N with A.S.A. (with aspirin)
- Darvocet, Darvocet-N,
- Darvon Compound, Darvon Compound-65 (with aspirin and caffeine)
Propoxyphene – The deadly aspirin
Propoxyphene was intended to be a mild analgesic for pain that could not be controlled with aspirin. Unfortunately, it didn’t work; at least not as claimed.
The original manufacturer, Eli Lilly and Company, claimed that propoxyphene was a non-addictive, safer substitute for codeine. But clinical studies in 1972 questioned propoxyphene’s effectiveness, forcing Lilly to acknowledge that the substitute was less effective than the real thing, and that even 2 aspirin might be just as effective as 65 mg of Darvon.The American Medical Association actually went further, stating that a dose of propoxyphene was actually less effective than a normal dose of aspirin.
Less effective than codeine and not any better at managing pain than two aspirins? Well, I guess we can keep it on the market as long as it doesn’t kill anyone. Oh wait a minute… Darvocet does cause death.
Causes of Darvocet Death
Because of the drug’s relative ineffectiveness at pain management, people who were taking it tended to self-medicate and increase the dosage. But the difference between an overdose and a therapeutic dose is dangerously small. Four times the standard dose can cause a slowing of breathing and heart rate. Six times a normal recommended dose can cause seizures. Symptoms of propoxyphene overdose can include convulsions, stupor, respiratory depression, and coma. And unfortunately, propoxyphene overdoses happen very quickly. One study showed that 20 percent of fatal propoxyphene overdoses happened within one hour of taking the drug. In 2008, 15,917 emergency room patient visits were attributed to propoxyphene.
Because of propoxyphene’s chemical similarity to methadone it is extremely addictive, which prompted the medical journal Clinical Pharmacology to state that propoxyphene’s “most prominent effect…may be its addictive quality.” Darvocet, Darvon and propoxyphene addiction causes similar psychological and physical dependence to other narcotic drugs.
The death knell, finally forcing the FDA in November 2010 to ban the drugs entirely, came in the form of an independent study that confirmed that propoxyphene, the active ingredient in Darvocet and Darvon can interfere with the electrical rhythm of an otherwise healthy heart which can result in heart abnormalities, heart arrhythmia, irregular heart beat, longer QT intervals, the need for a pacemaker, heart attack, cardiac arrest, and death. Even at normal doses, propoxyphene significantly increases the risk of abnormal heart rhythms, especially in the elderly, and those with kidney problems. These serious side effects all have the ultimate risk of death.