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Abuse-Deterrent OxyContin Not as Resistant to Abuse as Hoped, Says a New Landmark Study
The recently reformulated abuse-deterrent OxyContin isn’t as resistant to abuse as officials might have hoped, says a new study of the effectiveness of the formulation.
It turns out that a sizable percentage of hard-core OxyContin addicts have figured out how to convert the new hard-to-abuse pills into a form that’s easy to abuse after all. And OxyContin abuse continues across the country.
A new study by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO, found that close to a third of opiate addicts were still abusing the new “abuse-deterrent” OxyContin right before entering rehab.
The study examined data from the Researched Abuse, Diversion and Addiction-Related Surveillance system (called RADARS), which tracks and measures rates of prescription drug abuse and diversion across the country. It included 10,784 patients admitted to drug treatment programs at 150 centers in 48 states – statistics that definitely send a reliable message.
The survey showed that the reformulation of OxyContin reduced abuse from its introduction in 2010 until 2012. But from 2012 to 2014 it leveled off. After some in-depth interviews, the researchers found that about a third of the patients had successfully defeated the new OxyContin abuse-deterrent mechanism, and were able to continue inhaling or injecting the drug.
Nearly 5 years ago, after more than a decade of unprecedented numbers of addictions and overdose deaths due to OxyContin, the drug’s maker, Purdue Pharma L.P. of Stamford, CT, came up with a reformulated tablet that it said could be an effective deterrent to abuse.
The new abuse-deterrent OxyContin pill was made with tough, sticky and gooey binders intended to make the drug difficult, if not impossible, to crush into the powder that addicts like to snort or dissolve and inject intravenously.
The FDA quickly approved it, and drug officials everywhere, from treatment professionals to law enforcement, crossed their fingers and hoped the OxyContin scourge was finally over.
Why is OxyContin so attractive to addicts, and so dangerous?
OxyContin is an extended-release painkiller, designed to slowly release its powerful active ingredient, the heroin-like opiate oxycodone, over many hours, so that patients aren’t exposed to it all at once. The main reason for its existence is convenience – patients don’t have to remember to take their next pill every 3 or 4 hours. This also makes it less likely that a patient will become confused, take too much, and suffer ill effects or even a dangerous overdose.
The attraction of OxyContin for opiate addicts is this very same convenience – the concentration of a full day’s dose of oxycodone in one tablet, many times more opiate than is contained in single-dose opiate painkillers like Vicodin or Percocet and all the others.
But in the dark and tragic world of OxyContin abuse, before the anti-abuse reformulation, what happened was a horror story.
By crushing it and snorting or injecting it, addicts were able to get the entire mega-dose of oxycodone all at once. But users with limited experience easily overdosed on such a huge amount of oxycodone all in one dose, and the death rates across America went soaring.
If people didn’t overdose immediately they rapidly became dependent, joining the ranks of countless thousands of OxyContin addicts from coast to coast.
If OxyContin is still being abused, what’s next?
Theodore J. Cicero, PhD, a professor of neuropharmacology and lead author of the new study, told CBS News that when addicts figured out how to circumvent the abuse-deterrent formulation, they spread their findings in online chat groups, sharing advice and even providing step-by-step recipes.
Apparently, the addicts’ workaround essentially involves “cooking” the OxyContin first, which makes it easier to pulverize the pills into a form suitable for snorting or injecting.
It’s true that the reformulated OxyContin is harder to abuse. But instead of reducing the addiction and death statistics, many addicts simply turned to heroin. It’s not only a lot cheaper than illicit OxyContin, but a lot easier to come by. Prescription opiates can cost $30 or more per pill and a high-dose OxyContin pill often costs a lot more than that. But a hit of heroin can cost as little as $10 and you can find it on street corners all across America.
“It used to be an inner city problem, heroin use involving poor minority groups,” said Cicero. “That problem has now moved in to the suburbs and in rural areas, white middle class individuals who are basically now peddling heroin.”
So far, no one’s come up with anything resembling a solution to the problems with OxyContin or any of the other opiate prescription painkillers, or heroin, either. Opiates are leading the country in addictions and deaths and there’s no significant relief in sight.
The new study, however, sparked a response from the drug’s maker, Purdue Pharma, who has said from the beginning they never guaranteed that the new OxyContin formulation would be an abuse-deterrent OxyContin and eliminate all illicit use.
“The product’s label states that OxyContin has physical and chemical properties expected to make abuse via injection difficult and to reduce abuse via snorting,” said Raul Damas, vice president of corporate affairs, who told CBS News that “the label also states that abuse of OxyContin by these routes, as well as the oral route, is still possible.”
Damas added that “the report parallels other studies that show reformulated OxyContin is associated with a reduction in abuse.”
Okay, we’ll accept there’s been a reduction in the abuse of OxyContin. But even with that, there’s no reduction in the epidemic of opiate addiction sweeping the country, even if abuse-deterrent OxyContin itself is less abused.
Meanwhile, there’s still several class action lawsuits launched recently against Purdue and other drug makers for their role in flooding the market with addictive opiates.
These days, almost anyone can fall victim – even people taking the painkillers exactly as prescribed by their family doctors. With opiate dependence and addiction so widespread, don’t hesitate to call Novus and get the help for yourself or your loved one. We’re the experts in detoxing from OxyContin and all opiates, and we’re always here to help.
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