Can Off-Label Drugs Be Used to Treat Arthritis?

Sometimes a doctor may recommend an off-label prescription to treat arthritis. “Off-label” means the drug has been prescribed for a condition other than that approved by the FDA.

Off Label Drugs Held in Hands

For a patient who has arthritis, a knowledgeable provider will treat with medication or minimally invasive procedures before considering surgery. These non-surgical options might include physical therapy, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications or prescription drugs developed specifically for arthritis.

Sometimes, a provider may recommend an off-label prescription to treat arthritis. “Off-label” means a drug is being prescribed for a different condition than that which it has been approved for by the FDA. It is perfectly legal and somewhat common for providers to do this. According to a 2006 survey, 21 percent of prescriptions were off label, and it is estimated the percentage is now higher.

Off-Label Drug Prescription Examples

A provider might prescribe a medication off label for a variety of reasons. For example, prescriptions approved for the particular condition may cause side effects or allergic reactions or may not be effective for a particular patient. Off-label prescriptions for arthritis conditions include:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: Minocycline (Minocin) is an anti-inflammatory antibiotic often used to treat respiratory, urinary tract or other bacterial infections. However, some providers prescribe it to help patients who have rheumatoid arthritis with inflammation.Bottom of Form
  • Osteoarthritis: A drug called duloxetine hydrochloride (Cymbalta) was developed to treat depression. Providers found it was effective in treating osteoarthritis pain and began to prescribe it off label. In 2010, it was approved by the FDA for treating osteoarthritis.
  • Fibromyalgia: Antidepressant medications, muscle relaxants or sleep aids often ease symptoms for patients with fibromyalgia and are at times prescribed off label for the condition.

Always Take Medications as Prescribed

If you have arthritis and your provider prescribes a medication off label, follow the provider’s prescribing directions. Take the correct dosage at the right time of day, and check to see if you should take the medication with food or on an empty stomach.

Finally, if you have questions, always talk with your provider so you can receive the best benefit from your medication – on or off label.