Abuse-Deterrent Formulations of Painkillers Aren’t Risk-Free, Experts Caution

Abuse-deterrent formulations of opioid painkillers are making it more difficult for people to misuse the medications, but have not eliminated the problem of opioid abuse, experts tell The New York Times.

Thousands of people are still finding ways to misuse abuse-deterrent formulations of drugs such as OxyContin, the article notes. Others have moved on to other opioid medications or heroin.

The original version of OxyContin contained highly concentrated levels of the opioid oxycodone, which was designed so small amounts of the drug were released over a long period. A person who wanted to abuse the drug could crush and then snort it, or dissolve it in liquid and inject it.

In 2010 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an abuse-deterrent version of OxyContin, which is more difficult to crush. It turns into a gooey gel if it is crushed, making it almost impossible to snort or inject.

The rate of OxyContin overdoses dropped 19 percent in the two years after the company that makes the drug introduced the abuse-deterrent formulation, according to a study published earlier this year. During the same period, the rate of heroin overdoses increased 23 percent.

Some experts are concerned both users and prescribers may not understand that abuse-deterrent formulations of opioids are no less addictive than older versions, the article notes.

Last year the FDA approved three new painkillers that are being marketed as having abuse-deterrent properties: Embeda, Targiniq and Hysingla. About 30 more are in development.

In a statement, the FDA’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Gail Cawkwell, told the newspaper, “On the whole, society is better off having abuse-deterrent formulations. Focusing solely on what they don’t do is like saying seatbelts aren’t important because they don’t prevent all traffic fatalities. These products won’t stop all prescription drug abuse, but they’re a necessary part of the solution.”

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