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New Painkiller Causes Concern for Abuse Experts

Posted on January 6, 2012 in Research & News

The United States Drug Enforcement Agency keeps track of all the drugs seized each year in order to determine which drugs are being abused and where. Those DEA statistics tell us that oxycodone is more abused than any other drug in the country, closely followed by hydrocodone. These drugs are opiate narcotics, so called because of their chemical similarity to opium. Opiates include heroin, morphine, oxycodone, methadone, codeine and hydromorphone. These drugs are effective in blunting moderate to severe pain, but also provide the opiate-related sensations of pleasure and well-being that are highly addictive.

Drug Companies Seek to Produce Pure Hydrocodone

The oxycodone and hydrocodone products on the market today are formulated in combination with other analgesic pain relievers which are not addictive. Depending upon the label, the opiates are mixed with either aspirin or acetaminophen.

Drug companies are now pushing for the release of pure hydrocodone, which would make the medication roughly 10 times more powerful than is available in its current form (e.g., Vicodin). If drug companies win FDA approval, patients would be able to buy the pure and more powerful hydrocodone as soon as 2013.

OxyContin Could Be a Warning Against New Drug

The sale of opiate narcotics generates around $10 billion per year. Certainly, there is financial gain to be realized in marketing a more powerful form of the drugs, but at what cost to the nation? Detractors cite OxyContin as an example of the dangers posed by such a drug.

OxyContin was originally created to be a time-released form of oxycodone, the time release mechanism being in the tablet’s coating. Because those wanting to abuse the drug simply crushed the pill in order to get around the time-release function, OxyContin has been re-formulated in an effort to make it less vulnerable to tampering. Abusers simply moved on to the generic versions of oxycodone, which lack such tamper-proof designs. What would keep abusers from crushing this pure and more powerful form of hydrocodone to get a quick and more potent rush?

The Case for a Stronger Painkiller

Doctors, looking at an aging U.S. population are not opposed to adding stronger painkillers to their medical bag. In fact, some doctors have suggested that the liver damage associated with significant doses of acetaminophen (in Vicodin, for example) would be reduced by switching to an unmixed form of hydrocodone.

Furthermore, today a patient can refill his/her hydrocodone prescription as many as five times before needing to visit their physician in person for another script. The new form of the drug would require patients to return to their doctor every time they needed a refill.

The Downside of Pure Hydrocodone

Such benefits need to be weighed against the dangers of prescription drug abuse. National headlines have told the tale of pharmacy robberies and even murders connected to oxycodone and hydrocodone addiction. In 2008 there were 15,000 deaths related to prescription medications compared to just 4,000 such deaths in 1999. In 2000 there were 19,221 visits made to hospital emergency rooms due to hydrocodone use, but that number climbed to 86,258 in 2009.

According to the International Narcotics Control Board, the United States currently consumes 99 percent of hydrocodone worldwide and 83 percent of the globe’s oxycodone. Many worry that the release of pure forms of hydrocodone onto the market will not do anything to improve those dangerous statistics but instead will prove more of a threat than a boon.

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