Pain patches: a good example of globalization

When I was just learning about the health care industry a couple decades back I remember being surprised by a few fairly basic things: drug companies actually conduct the clinical trials that lead to approval of their own drugs (I guess I assumed it was a neutral third party), the profit motive drives what treatments patients receive, and people’s preferences for drug formulations varied by country. Americans liked pills, Italians injections (often performed by mom at home) and the French were into suppositories.

So I read with interest Patches for Pain Relief Take Hold in the U.S. in today’s Wall Street Journal. Pain patches still represent less than 3 percent of the pain market in the US, but they’re starting to grow. Meanwhile in Japan pain patches are much more mainstream. With concerns about liver and stomach damage from aspirin and other pain relievers that pass through the digestive system, it sounds like the approach makes some sense, especially for localized pain:

“In general, topical approaches cause less in the way of systemic effects,” says Knox Todd, a professor of emergency medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Many of his patients “swear by” patches as a way to treat minor to moderate pain, he says.

Doctors say patches reduce the risk of overdosing because it’s more difficult for people to take too many at once. They can be removed when the pain stops—unlike pills, which, once swallowed, can’t be undone. And because the medicine in patches is localized, they are less likely to clash with other drugs, Dr. Todd said.

I don’t know whether this shift in the US market is a result of Japanese cultural influence. I kind of doubt it. But it is a good sign that best practices from other parts of the world are making their way around this direction. But I don’t think we’ll be following the French anytime soon by taking suppositories for sore throats.

August 10, 2010

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