Health officials have become increasingly concerned about rapidly rising rates of painkiller addiction in the U.S. In 2010, a study funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse found that 2.1 percent of 8th graders, 4.6 percent of 10th graders, and 5.1 percent of 12th graders had abused OxyContin for nonmedical purposes. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2011 that 40 people die per day from overdoses of painkiller medications like OxyContin.
Giving such a highly addictive and abused drug to children is controversial to be sure, and doctors say it will mean that prescribers must be particularly vigilant in watching how the drug affects young patients and to guard against pills being diverted to others to fuel addiction.
Krane, who is participating in Purdue's OxyContin trial and was a paid consultant for the company until last year, said the potential for children to become addicted to the drug is no greater or less than it is with other opioids that doctors give to children, such as morphine.
"Mere exposure will not turn them into an addict," Krane said.
Dr. Daniel Frattarelli, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Drugs, said doctors face the challenge of balancing concerns about addiction with the need to treat pain in children. But he said if OxyContin is going to be used in children, it must be studied in children.
"Pain is a real thing, and it needs to be treated," Frattarelli said. "I would be much more comfortable prescribing it [OxyContin] if I knew that well-done studies had been conducted and also that there was a way of minimizing addiction."