Indomethacin, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that costs about $2 per dose, is the first drug among dozens studied for this problem that has been shown to be extremely effective, Elmunzer said.
"I think it's pretty clear it's the first medication everyone's going to accept as a preventive measure," he said. "The data is there to recommend that all patients at higher risk should be getting it at the end of an ERCP. I think the next step is to get the message out and promote implementation because I think the clinical impact will be immediate."
Dr. David Bernstein, chief of the division of gastroenterology at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., said the drug may significantly reduce the number of costly hospitalizations needed by patients undergoing ERCPs, which typically are done on an outpatient basis.
"The study is really straightforward and impressive and surprising," Bernstein said. "It's a very important finding."
Elmunzer noted that indomethacin, because of its nominal cost, is "proof of principle" that health care innovations don't have to come with a steep price tag.
"Because of how expensive health care is becoming, it's imperative that researchers start looking at innovative, low-cost ways to improve health," he said. "This is a perfect example."
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more information about acute pancreatitis.
SOURCES: B. Joseph Elmunzer, M.D., assistant professor, internal medicine, division of gastroenterology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; David Bernstein, M.D., chief, division of gastroenterology, North Shore University Hospital, Manhasset, N.Y.; April 12, 2012, New England Journal of Medicine
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