Pills
Pure hydrocodone pills may be on the market within a year and a half. Image: Flickr / amayzun / CC-BY

Four separate pharmaceutical companies have filed paperwork with the FDA for approval of new, purer forms of hydrocodone. While these drugs are intended to be used for pain management, addiction researchers are very concerned about their potential misuse.

The hydrocodone problem

Currently, there are several different drugs on the market that contain the painkiller hydrocodone. OxyContin is the most powerful of these drugs. Hydrocodone medications are currently mixed with more innocuous painkillers, such as acetaminophen. Hydrocodone is a highly addictive narcotic, though the less powerful painkillers the drug is mixed with have a tendency to cause liver damage when taken in high doses. OxyContin is one of the most-abused painkillers currently on the market, and there are certain formulations meant to discourage abuse, but the drug is used properly as often as it is abused.

Zohydro and other pure hydrocodones

At least four pharmaceutical companies in the United States are in some stage of the approval process for newer, more powerful hydrocodone painkillers. The one closest to approval is Zohydro from Zogenix. The painkiller would be pure hydrocodone, designed to release slowly, over a long period of time. The idea is to remove liver-damaging acetaminophen from the mix, allowing for another option in long-term pain management. Crushing up and ingesting these new pure hydrocodones, however, would provide a much stronger high than the current OxyContin that is favored by many narcotic painkiller addicts.

Trying to mitigate addiction

While pain management is considered a legitimate use for many narcotic painkillers, addiction is a very large part of the $10 billion per year market. In the state of Florida in 2003, hydrocodone drugs contributed to at least 2,713 deaths. The Drug Enforcement Agency estimates that there were more than 90,000 emergency room visits as a result of hydrocodone in 2010. A “squishy” form of OxyContin has been introduced that won’t crush. These new drugs, however, will not include safety measures such as this.

Sources

Time.com: http://healthland.time.com/2011/12/26/powerful-new-painkiller-has-addiction-experts-worried/
Daily Mail: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2079029/New-painkiller-Zohydro-10-times-stronger-Vicodin-developed.html?ito=feeds-newsxml
International Herald Tribune: http://health.heraldtribune.com/2011/12/27/new-painkiller-zohydro-worries-abuse-experts/

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