Medications containing the opioid painkiller propoxyphene were banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2010. Prescribed for long-term chronic pain, drugs that mixed propoxyphene and acetaminophen (Darvocet, Darvon, etc.) were long believed to be safer and less addictive than stronger opioid painkillers like OxyContin or Vicodin. However, studies uncovered a significant risk of heart damage in those taking these drugs, and based on these findings, propoxyphene medications were pulled from the market. But propoxyphene’s legacy is still with us. The long-term effects of propoxyphene use were often significant and former consumers are still suffering from them today. In addition to its medicinal uses, propoxyphene also had a presence on the illicit drug market, based on its ability to cause euphoria if taken in excessive amounts. It isn’t clear how quickly propoxyphene disappeared from the illegal drug scene after the FDA’s decision to ban it, but the health problems it created were undoubtedly aggravated by its diversion for recreational use.
Dangers of Propoxyphene
Heart problems associated with propoxyphene use were the primary reason Darvocet and Darvon were discontinued. But irregular heartbeat was not the only problematic long-term side effect of propoxyphene consumption. Other issues included:
- A major problem was the use of acetaminophen in combination with propoxyphene. While this common over-the-counter painkiller is fairly benign when taken for the occasional headache or muscle pain, when consumed regularly for months or years, acetaminophen can cause severe and possibly fatal liver damage.
- Still another dangerous side effect of extended propoxyphene use is chronic constipation. This may not sound as serious as heart or liver failure, but when constipation is persistent it can lead to colon ruptures and other internal complications.
- Hearing loss is an additional problem frequently associated with opioid painkiller abuse, and propoxyphene-based medications were known to cause this side effect more often than most other opioid medications.
- Finally, propoxyphene products were responsible for tens of thousands of cases of opioid addiction, in addition to the other long-term health effects they caused. Because one opioid can be substituted for another without any change in their effects, there may be some people addicted to opioids today who started out using Darvocet or Darvon.
Propoxyphene Is Gone, but the Risk of Opioid Painkiller Abuse Remains
Propoxyphene is no longer available in the United States, but other opioid painkillers are, and, like propoxyphene, they can sometimes cause troubling and dangerous side effects. In general, however, opioid products currently on the market can be used safely as long as the prescribing physician’s guidelines are followed to the letter. Propoxyphene did help relieve chronic pain for many people. However, its documented side effects put users at far more risk than could ever be considered acceptable. Sources U.S. Food and Drug Administration Drug Safety Communication: FDA Recommends against the Continued Use of Propoxyphene Medicine Net: Propoxyphene, Darvon, Darvon-N, Dolene