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Ann Intern Med. 2009 Mar 3;150(5):344-7. Epub 2009 Feb 16.

Controlling off-label medication use.

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Harvard Medical School/Harvard Pilgrim, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.


Off-label prescribing may lead to innovative new uses of old medications, is essential in such fields as pediatrics, and avoids the lengthy and expensive process of modifying U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) drug labeling. Using medications for unapproved indications, however, raises concerns about patient safety when the drugs have a high potential for toxicity and generates economic concerns when their cost is high. A possible means of controlling the use of off-label drugs is to focus on medications used off-label that are both expensive and potentially risky. These are principally biotechnology drugs, such as recombinant enzymes, cytokines, and monoclonal antibodies. This article suggests a 2-step process for controlling use of such drugs, analogous to that used for devices. Once a drug is FDA approved, it would undergo scrutiny using the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) National Coverage Determination method if its cost exceeds a specified benchmark-for example, $12 000, which is the average cost of a pacemaker. The CMS would pay only for off-label uses for which there is adequate evidence in its National Coverage Determination process. Other insurance companies would probably adopt the recommendations of CMS.

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