OxyContin Abuse Reduced After Its Formulation Is Changed


OxyContin abuse is a real problem, as many drug abusers use these drugs to get high. They may be clever but scientists are cleverer. Very smartly they have altered the formulation of the opioid drug OxyContin®. The was originally formulated with abuse-deterrent features but they were circumvented and the drug was abused by users. But with this new change in formulation, the abuse rate of the drug has dwindled now.

OxyContin® (1996), a product of Purdue Pharma, is an extended-release opioid analgesic used for pain that is severe enough to warrant its use. Opioid analgesics are usually the last line of painkillers that are introduced when OTC and other non-opioid medicines, such as ibuprofen (Advil), aspirin (Ecotrin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) fail to curtail pain.

Like all other opioids (hint: morphine), OxyContin (oxycodone), popularly known as hillbilly heroin, has a potential for misuse and abuse. The manufacturers were aware of this potential abuse and formulated the drug with abuse deterrent features in 2010. The drug was formulated and released in a special form called “extended-release” which slowly released its contents over an extended period of time, say 4-6 hours, minimizing its exposure in human body.

However, this could not dodge the hardcore drug addicts who not only mean business when it comes to “drugging” but ensure nothing comes between them and the euphoric psychedelics.

But now the manufacturers have done something smarter. In 2010, they come up with a new formulation of the drug which is not easy to bypass. Reasonably enough, the rate of abuse has fallen, but has it really?

Researchers at Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center, Washington University School of Medicine and a handful of other varsities in the US wanted to validate the claim. So, they designed a study which was recently published in the September edition of Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal.

Geoffrey Severtson and colleagues dug and analyzed data from Poison Center Program, Opioid Treatment Program and other surveillance systems and compared the rates of abuse and diversion for the drug before and after re-formulation of the drug in 2015.

They found out that ever since the drug was re-formulated, its abuse and diversion decreased substantially. The rate of abuse increased for a bit in the start but since then only saw a decline. Once the decline was plateaued, there was no going back up again.

Scientists noticed that a mere change of formulation curbed abuse of the drug through both oral and non-oral routes.


How Did The Junkies Circumvent The Abuse Deterrent Features Of OxyContin?

There is a whole science to it. Beside scientists, nobody seems to understand science as well as junkies. They found a loophole in the drug formulation. The feature of the drug that was designed to prevent its misuse and abuse was its biggest undoing.

Instead of waiting for the extended-release drug to slowly release its content in the blood, what the addicted did was to crush the tablets and either snort or inject it so that it goes directly into the blood and give them a high. This way the junkies got the powerful euphoria of entire mega-dose of the drug.

Purdue Pharma never guaranteed the abuse-deterrent potential of OxyContin though.

“The product’s label states that OxyContin has physical and chemical properties expected to make abuse via injection difficult and to reduce abuse via snorting,” said Raul Damas, vice president of corporate affairs, who told CBS News that “the label also states that abuse of OxyContin by these routes, as well as the oral route, is still possible”.

The amount of dose in one tablet of OxyContin (60-80 mg) is actually many times more than is contained in single doses of other opiate painkillers — Percocet (2.5 mg/325 mg) and Vicodin (5 mg).

Opiate analgesics are given in varied doses depending upon whether you are opioid-naïve or opioid-tolerant patients – 5-15 mg vs >40 mg. A sudden exposure to a high dose, particularly in those with a limited experience, can cause fatal respiratory depression. And this is exactly what was happening. The death rate in the US soared.

Opioid-tolerant people who survive shallowing breathing quickly become dependent on the drug.

The current form of the drug is harder to abuse which has made junkies switch to cheaper versions of the drug. The pill is larger and difficult to break, crush, snort, chew and inject.

A prescription opiate can cost $30 or more per pill and a high-dose OxyContin costs even more. Heroine, on the other hand, costs $10 and can easily be found on street corners in the country.

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