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Patients are upset pain drugs taken away
Thousands of Calgarians weigh risks
Mario Toneguzzi
Calgary Herald

CREDIT: Tim Fraser, Calgary Herald
Cheyne Parkinson has suffered from arthritis since she was 15, and despite the warnings, is continuing to use Celebrex.

The local chapter of the Arthritis Society gets calls every day from confused and worried patients, seeking advice and information about medications that could put their health at risk.

"People are so confused now. They don't know what to do. They don't know what to take," said Cathy Miller, executive director of the Arthritis Society's Alberta and Northwest Territories division.

Last fall, pharmaceutical giant Merck and Co., maker of Vioxx, announced a worldwide recall of the widely used drug after clinical trials indicated a danger of heart attacks and strokes for longtime users.

A series of reports followed about health risks involving other medications used by arthritis patients such as Celebrex, Bextra, Mobicox and Naproxen. All of those remain available to patients.

"The majority of arthritis patients take at least one of these drugs. Some on a regular basis. Some more infrequently," said Miller. "Doctors are in a similar situation. They don't have enough data to be advising patients adequately. We've told people to be cautious with the medications. Medications have side-effects. If they have any worries about high blood pressure and cardiac issues, we're saying they should go back to their physicians and talk to their physicians."

Miller said there are about 400,000 Albertans who suffer from various forms of arthritis and 125,000 of them are in Calgary. The condition affects all ages, from babies to seniors.

She said the dilemma arthritis patients face is "a really sad situation" and "emphasizes how serious arthritis is and the pain people are in."

"We know there are people out there willing to take the health risk," said Miller, adding that there was an immediate run on Vioxx with people wanting to fill their prescriptions the day before it was pulled off the market.

"We don't have enough good, concrete information to advise people at this point. It's a huge worry. People with arthritis need choices. They have to have pain medication to control their pain so they can live their lives. The problem now is that their options are rapidly disappearing."

Cheryl Wiens, a clinical assistant professor in the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Alberta, said there have always been challenges with using certain anti-inflammatory medications.

"We've known they've had significant side-effects," said Wiens. The side-effects include ulcers, kidney problems and increased blood pressure.

She said patients, doctors and pharmacists have always known there were risks, but people shouldn't "abruptly" stop taking medication. They should consult their doctor.

© The Calgary Herald 2005

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