Watch Out For More Powerful Painkillers

Opioids pose danger for painkiller drug addicts

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Powerful prescription painkillers like OxyCotin are among the most abused drugs in the United States. That's why plans for even more powerful pills have addiction experts worried.

The San Diego-based pharmaceutical company Zogenix hopes to introduce a new drug called Zohydro as early as 2013. Zohydro is essentially pure hydrocodone, which is a highly addictive painkiller.

Zohydro would be more powerful than any opioid currently on the market – and addiction experts are concerned about the consequences.

"Powerful new painkillers may be available in the next few years."

Zohydro has been through three rounds of clinical trials and testing in patients, and Zogenix has plans to file a drug application in early 2012. If the application is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Zohydro could be prescribed in early 2013.

Zohydro is one of several hydrocodone drugs under development by various pharmaceutical companies. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, hydrocodone is among the most abused medications, second to oxycodone drugs like OxyCotin.

This class of drugs, known as opioids, are developed for patients with temporary or chronic pain. But abusers often crush the pills to experience an intense high.

Painkiller addiction ended in death for 15,000 Americans in 2008, an increase from previous years.

Zohydro has addiction experts worried because unlike existing drugs, it's not paired with non-addictive painkillers. April Rovero, president of the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse, told the Associated Press that she fears Zohydro could become “the next OxyCotin.”

The concern shared by many painkiller reformers is that pharmaceutical companies are not just creating a better drug for pain sufferers, they're also supplying an easily available narcotic to the American public.

Pain sufferers who have legitimate prescriptions also become addicted to the drugs, they say.

But a prescription for Zohydro won't be as easy to refill as a prescription for Valium, say the pharmaceutical companies.

There are fewer controls on drugs that use a combination – say, of hydrocodone and acetaminophen – and prescription-holders can refill it up to five times. Zohydro, because it is only hydrocodone, cannot be refilled without a doctor's visit.

One of the reasons the pharmaceutical companies give for developing these new drugs is that large doses of acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, cause liver problems. A pure drug would be safer, they say.

There is the possibility of creating tamper-resistant formulations for prescription painkillers, but there's scant evidence that these formulas deter abuse.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 31, 2011
Last Updated:
April 25, 2012