New Version of OxyContin May Be Harder to Abuse
> 5/2/2008 11:12:15 AM

Recent national reports have illustrated just how serious the problem of prescription drug abuse has become, and new strategies are needed to prevent the inappropriate and potentially lethal use of these medications. An announcement made by the FDA this week points toward one potential way of addressing this growing crisis. They reported that the manufacturers of the powerful painkiller OxyContin, Purdue Pharma LP, have created a new version of the drug that may be more difficult to use recreationally.

OxyContin, which was first introduced in 1996, is designed to be released into the body over a 12 hour time period and has helped many individuals suffering from serious illness or recovering form injury. As with other opiates, however, OxyContin is highly addictive, and recreational use of the narcotic painkiller has surged since its introduction. Many individuals crush the pills into a powder that can be snorted or dissolve them to create an injectable substance. These methods cause the drug to be released into the body all at once, and the resulting high has been compared to that yielded by heroin. Purdue's new version of the drug would discourage these efforts via a hard plastic-like substance coating each pill. According to Purdue Pharma, crushing the pills will cause them to break into large pieces rather than a powder, while dissolving them will create a "gelatinous mass." They go on to explain that the new drug will work as well as the current version if taken as directed.

The FDA will evaluate this new form of OxyContin and may decide to allow it on the market soon, although research is still necessary to assess the drug's effectiveness at curbing abuse. Even if research shows that the medication achieves its purpose, it will not be a perfect solution. The FDA has already noted some inherent problems, explaining that no drug is completely resistant to tampering and even if this drug cannot be snorted or injected, individuals could still abuse it by swallowing too many. Further, they suggest that a drug marketed as "harder-to-abuse" could be viewed as "safer." OxyContin is a powerful and potentially fatal drug, and Purdue Pharma has already been accused of misleading the public about its risks. Last May, they agreed to pay over $600 million in fines for promoting the drug to doctors while downplaying its potential for abuse.

Prescription drug abuse is a complicated issue that must be addressed by physicians and their patients as well as government agencies. As we have discussed in the past, physicians need to openly communicate with their patients about the potential dangers accompanying these medications and carefully monitoring those who receive a prescription. Researchers will continue to investigate OxyContin and other medications, searching for forms that will be less likely to facilitate abuse. With their work and the actions of physicians, we may be able to reduce the rates at which these medications are currently abused and prevent many more from becoming addicted.

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