Painkiller junkies who’ve diligently done research are anxiously awaiting the arrival of a pill called Zohydro.
Meanwhile, a well-meaning coalition of health professionals is also anticipating - the imminent demise of such existing abusers and legitimate patients alike. They are trying their hardest to prevent such tragedy from unfolding right up until the last minute, as the drug is set to be released as soon as March.
“In the midst of a severe drug epidemic fueled by overprescribing of opioids, the very last thing the country needs is a new, dangerous, high-dose opioid,” the aforementioned coalition of healthcare, consumer, and addiction treatment professionals wrote to FDA. They added, “Too many people have already become addicted to similar opioid medications, and too many lives have been lost.”
“This could be the next OxyContin,” a petition on Change.org predicts, as they beseech the FDA to reconsider release of this drug.
Indeed, in the 90’s, the powerful opiate painkiller called Oxycontin became a popular pill for doctors to push. Patients became quickly addicted, having little or no knowledge about just how addictive it was until it was too late. There were numerous overdose related deaths following the release of that drug – which have only risen since.
Patients may not have been as aware in the past about potential dangers of painkillers, but efforts have been made in the past couple of decades to educate the public. Likewise, if any new drug (with potentially detrimental effects) hits the market, patients have a right to know the whole story before their doctor says something like, “If you’re still in pain, let’s try the narcotic rotation method.... I’m going to switch you from your Oxycontin to this new drug called Zohydro” (a suggestion that conveniently helps him pay off that sports car you limped past on your way in).
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are people in chronic relentless pain who absolutely rely on their pharmaceuticals to get through the excruciating agony that comes with everything from herniated discs to cancer. Trust me, I know. However, this group of the population certainly doesn’t account for the staggering statistics the CDC cites when it comes to narcotic over-prescription, prescription abuse, and overdose deaths.
Find state-by-state prescription drug overdose death rates and learn how your state scores: http://t.co/W6H7VFRZqi
— RWJF PublicHealth (@RWJF_PubHealth) October 7, 2013
Specifically, the CDC indicates “there is currently a growing, deadly epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse. Nearly three out of four prescription drug overdoses are caused by prescription painkillers—also called opioid pain relievers,” adding that the “ rise in overdose deaths in the US parallels a 300% increase since 1999 in the sale of these strong painkillers.”
In 2008 alone, there were 14,800 deaths attributable to these sorts of drugs (more than cocaine and heroin combined), and caused 475,000 abuse-related emergency room visits the next year – a stat that was half that amount just five years before.
As far as recent abuse stats go, more than 12 million people admitted in 2010 to taking the drug just for fun (or perhaps to attempt redressing an addiction associated intrinsic void) and that they obtained it without a prescription for any kind of physical infirmity.
Now, parents, this part is for you.
Back when Oxycontin was released, abusers quickly realized that crushing the pill and insufflating it (that’s just a fancy way of saying they snort it up their nose holes) could double the high. Veteran addicts and kids pill-pilfering from their parents’ post-operation supply similarly fell prey to this - until the latter group grew up to be the former. In more recent years, efforts have been made by drug companies to reformulate Oxycontin and drugs like it to make it tamper proof (so they couldn’t be taken any way but orally).
Zohydro, however, is not tamper proof.
“It’s a whopping dose of hydrocodone packed in an easy-to-crush capsule,” Dr. Andrew Kolodny, president of Pysicians for Responsibilbe Opioid Prescribing, warns before adding: “It will kill people as soon as it’s released.”
Zohydro also packs a five-point punch of potency, compared to its predecessors: “You’re talking about a drug that’s somewhere in the neighborhood of five times more potent than what we’re dealing with now,” said Dr. Stephen Anderson, a Washington emergency room physician. He adds, “I’m five times more concerned, solely based on potency.”
I’m not here to give a speech or spread unwarranted fear. For some well-read and responsible patients, this drug may be a viable option. But as someone who’s seen firsthand the horrors of prescription abuse and addiction, I feel like there is indeed some warranted level of fear when it comes to heavy duty painkillers – for everyone.
There are patients who won’t realize how easy it is to overdose.
There are parents who won’t realize how easy it is for their kids to obtain it.
And there are doctors whose patients will be abusing it right under their noses (pardon the pun).
While this drug may end up being the magic bullet for some, a good suggestion might be doing heaps of research (as you always should) before adding this to your prescription collection and moving from the pharmaceutical frying pan to the fire.
If you or someone you know is suffering from the disease of addiction, help is available.
Never give up.
Every overdose death is preventable. If you need help, it is there. Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) to find support in your area. #NeverGiveUp
— Rafael Lemaitre (@RafaelONDCP) February 2, 2014
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