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Where Do We Go After Vioxx?

The recent recall of the arthritis drug Vioxx has a lot of patients worried about the contents of their medicine cabinets and wondering what the alternatives might be. The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay shared some advice about alternatives to the drug.

Are drugs in the same family as Vioxx still available for arthritis pain?

"There are alternatives to Vioxx still available, including other drugs in the same family like Celebrex and Bextra," says Senay. "(These are) the so-called 'super-aspirin' drugs known as Cox-2 inhibitors. But because of the risks of Vioxx to the heart, many doctors are wondering whether similar risks might exist with the other Cox-2 inhibitors.

"So," she continues, "the advice for patients with heart disease or at risk of heart disease may well be to avoid taking these drugs until further studies are completed. Your doctor is the best person to confer with when it comes to assessing your individual risk versus benefit, because for many people, these drugs are very effective for pain relief."

What are the other alternatives to arthritis pain relief?

"Don't forget that over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen are proven to safe and effective for pain relief," advises Senay. "But, again, you need to ask your doctor about which ones are right for you. It's important to remember that every drug has side effects, and you really need to pay attention to the directions and take these drugs with care."

Are there any other prescription drug dangers we need to watch out for?

"New research this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that the group of cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins are very safe," reports Senay, "but that people taking statins to lower cholesterol and fibrates to lower triglycerides in combination had a raised risk of a potentially life-threatening muscle disorder.

"In separate testimony to Congress," she continues, "a government expert is also calling into question the safety of a number of other widely-prescribed drugs, including the arthritis drug Bextra, Serevent for asthma, the cholesterol-lowering drug Crestor, the weight-loss drug Meridia, and Accutane for acne. Some of these drugs already come with warnings about potentially serious side effects, and if you're concerned, your doctor can assess your individual risk."

Why are there so many questions being asked about drug safety these days?

"There is a lot of scrutiny of the drug-approval and monitoring process in light of the recent Vioxx recall," Senay explains, "and there have been a lot of questions asked about whether the current system is working to prevent potentially dangerous drugs coming on to the market.

"Experts writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association are calling for a new independent body responsible for continuing to collect data on the effectiveness and side effects of drugs to make sure that doctors are alerted to safety issues that might arise from long-term use."

What can we do as patients to avoid the dangers of medications?

"It's important to remember that every drug, including over-the-counter medications, have side effects. Some drugs include specific warnings on the packaging, some can have damaging effects when they interact with other drugs or herbal remedies. Some people are allergic to certain drugs."

Senay concludes, "Patients should always be alert to changes in their physical or mental well-being when taking prescription drugs, and talk to your doctor about any issues that come up or concerns you might have."

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