Another arthritis drug comes under scrutiny and a Tulsa doctor offers an alternative

Monday, January 31st 2005, 10:24 am
By: News On 6

Kaiser Permanente, the nation's largest non-profit managed care provider, has stopped prescribing Bextra to its patients until tests show whether its's safe.

Bextra is similar to Vioxx, which was pulled from the market a few months ago. Many patients are afraid that without medication to control the pain, surgery is their only option. But there is another alternative for people with arthritis and it's offered right here in Tulsa.

The News on Six's Heather Lewin has more.

"The right knee. The right knee? How's it going?" Sue Smith first noticed the stiffness in her knees about six years ago. "I was not able to jog, I was not able to do long walks and it slowly became worse."

She took Vioxx for the pain, but after safety concerns came to light, she asked her doctor if there were any alternatives before committing to surgery. Smith then started on Visco supplementation injections.

"There's a certain joint fluid in the knee and as we get older and as we get arthritic the joint fluid is thinner so it's not as viscous. The supplementation basically builds up this joint fluid and allows it to be more of a pain reliever and a shock absorber." Joint replacement specialist Dr. Yogesh Mittal is giving the injections to dozens of arthritis patients.

After a series of 3 to 5 shots, relief generally lasts 6-12 months. It's not a permanent solution, but can help put off surgery for years. Smith was surprised at the results. "I was able to do things that I was not able to do before." The treatment doesn't work on everybody.

"Somebody who has terrible arthritis they have terrible pain, their joint space is completely obliterated, they're probably not going to find a whole lot of relief from these injections." But Dr. Mittal says patients with significant arthritis and some joint space left will find relief.

Sue Smith: "I can now chase the grandchildren I can chase the dogs, I do water aerobics and pilates I also keep up an active gardening and social life."

Dr. Mittal says no problems were found with short-term use of drugs like Vioxx and Bextra, but he understands patient apprehension after all of the publicity.

Visco supplementation is used now in knees only, but it is being studied for hips and ankles.