The abuse of prescription painkillers in America has reached epidemic proportions. Close to half of the nation’s 38,329 drug overdose deaths in 2010 involved painkillers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These narcotics now kill more adults than heroin and cocaine combined.
Painkillers are opioids which come in many forms that you’ve likely heard of — hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine are a few types that are used to relieve pain. If you’ve had surgery or needed to take painkillers for any reason, then you’ve likely taken opioids. Research has revealed that when opioids are taken according to the precise way that they have been prescribed, they are safe. They will relieve pain and rarely cause an addiction, when a patient takes them according to a doctor’s direction.
Yet, when these drugs are not taken according to direction, when they are abused in any way, that is when they become addictive. Sadly, addictions to opioids are easy to develop, especially after they have been using tobacco, alcohol, and/or marijuana on a regular basis. Although there are strict regulations on powerful drugs in order to prevent harm, abuse, and addiction, developing a dependency on these drugs clearly continue to happen regardless. Furthermore, attempting to find sober living after an addiction to painkillers can feel like an insurmountable task.
For this reason, many are angry about the recent approval of a new and strong drug, Zohydro ER. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the drug, an even more powerful prescription painkiller. Zohydro ER is a long-acting formula of the opioid hydrocodone. The short-acting form, more commonly known as Vicodin and Lortab, is already the most prescribed and the most abused drug in the country.
In March of this year, the governor of Massachusetts attempted to ban the drug considering it lethal, but a month later, the manufacturer of Zohydro ER, a company called Zogenix of San Diego, took legal proceedings. A federal judge denied the ban and the case is pending further legal action. Meanwhile, other states are taking action to restrict the use of this powerful painkiller as well as ask the FDA to reconsider its approval.
In the 1990’s and into the 2000’s, there was a series of drug deaths related to the original version of Oxycontin as well as an incredible amount of people seeking sober help after finding themselves with an addiction. Oxycontin is now available in an abuse-deterrent formula. However, there are many who are concerned that this drug, early in its release, will have similar effects as the first version of Oxycontin.
On the other hand, Dr. Bradley Galer, chief medical officer for Zogenix, reported that the company fulfilled all of the FDA requirements so that the drug could be approved. And with that approval, there’s no reason to treat the medication any differently. Zohydro ER should be no different from the other extended-release opioids already on the market.
Those who experience chronic pain in their bodies have to resort to taking short acting hydrocodone pills regularly throughout the day. Many complain that it is inconvenient and gets in the way of their daily work schedule. However, Zohydro ER is a new extended-release formula that will relieve them of the need to continue to take pills throughout the day. Furthermore, the new drug does not have acetaminophen, which increases the risk of liver damage. So the new drug will provide steady relief without damaging the liver.
Despite these benefits, Zohydro ER is available at a high dose – up to 50 milligrams. This is five times greater than the largest doses of immediate release medication. And adding to the huge risk of addiction with this drug, Zohydro ER is sold in capsules which can be crushed so that the medication can then be snorted, injected, and sold in various forms.
The approval of the new drug raises questions about whether the FDA has considered the risks involved, such as addiction and how this would affect those who are in sober living programs but also in chronic pain. The second part of this two series article will provide more details about the approval of the drug despite the large national concerns.
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