Recently, the FDA made headlines by approving Oxycontin for children as young as 11. This approval sparked uproar across the nation. Many who are against the approval fear that giving an addictive medication to 11-year-olds will create 11-year-old drug addicts. People are outraged that the FDA would allow this to happen. But what they don’t realize is that by approving this drug, the FDA has actually created a safer situation for its use.

The horrified population does not realize that this medication was already being used without FDA approval. Children with severe pain issues (such as those with terminal cancer) were being administered this medication, but the effects on children hadn’t yet been extensively studied.

Obtaining FDA approval means that the company that makes Oxycontin has conducted studies on the use and safety of this medication in children, and the results were submitted to the FDA. This will allow medical professionals to properly determine how much medication a child needs instead of attempting to calculate pediatric dosing based on adult dosages. I think this aspect of the approval is great – we are expanding our knowledge of a formerly gray area and creating a safer situation for children receiving the medication.1

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People are concerned that the administration of this medication will make children addicted to opiates. While this is always a scary thought, we must remember that the children receiving Oxycontin are the ones who truly need it. These patients are closely monitored, and they are weaned off of these medications in a way that prevents withdrawal symptoms. In addition, I imagine children who come from responsible households are not going to have unrestricted access to their highly addictive pain medications. Instead, they will be given the medication as directed, limiting the possibility for abuse.

When I first heard about the approval, my thoughts went to drug-seeking adults. Will they be using their children to try and get narcotics for their own use? Unfortunately, this happens, and it can be one of the sadder aspects of working in medicine. I then thought about myself in this scenario: I realized that if parents came into the emergency department requesting Oxycontin for their child, I would not give it to them. In emergency medicine, we are unable to closely monitor these medications, and we don’t routinely see cases of terminally ill children. This means we aren’t in a situation in which we would need to prescribe pain medications to these children, which appeases my concern about drug-seeking parents.

With all this in mind, the decision to approve OxyContin for a younger age group doesn’t really bother me. I realize that this decision will not be affecting my use of this medication in the emergency department, and it has created a safer situation for children who are already receiving this medication. And if something can be done to create a safer situation for a suffering child, I will agree to that.

Jillian Knowles, MMS, PA-C, works as an emergency medicine physician assistant in the Philadelphia area.


  1. CEDR Conversation: Pediatric pain management options. Available at: Accessed 18 August 2015.