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Tramadol May Become Controlled Substance; Not as Safe as Once Believed

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Updated June 26, 2014

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Are you a tramadol user? Many arthritis patients are prescribed tramadol to help control their pain. Tramadol was first marketed in the U.S. in 1995. It was promoted as the safer, non-narcotic, prescription pain reliever -- and most notably -- with less potential for abuse or addiction.

Well, guess what? An article from MedPageToday and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has disclosed more of the backstory that surrounds tramadol. According to the report, recent research shows that tramadol has much greater abuse potential and potential for overdose than what was thought to be the case when it first came on the market. The FDA apparently disregarded a key piece of evidence and decided to put the drug on the market without being placed under the Controlled Substance Act. The Controlled Substance Act places drugs into categories (schedule I through V) based on abuse potential. The FDA decision was based on research for injectable tramadol, disregarding the findings which demonstrated that when taken orally at high doses, tramadol produces opiate-like effects.

Perhaps even more interesting, the FDA asked Ortho-McNeil (the drug company which marketed tramadol) to hire a team of paid consultants to watch for issues of abuse and the need to make it a controlled substance. Didn't happen. Ortho-McNeil didn't want it on the controlled substances list. But now, the Drug Enforcement Agency seems more interested in getting it onto the controlled substance list. In 2005, the DEA received four petitions to do so. Last month, the DEA recommended tramadol become a schedule IV drug.

I might add one caveat that doesn't seem to be mentioned in the article. Statistics are offered that show increased use and abuse of tramadol in recent years. Everyone seems to forget that Darvocet was taken off the market in 2010 and that left most chronic arthritis patients and other chronic pain patients scrambling. Many were offered Vicodin or tramadol, which would account for some of the increased use. Read the full story published December 22, 2013 on MedPageToday.

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