Potent new painkiller could unleash new epidemic of addiction and abuse

Four pharmaceutical companies have nearly finished creating a powerful new painkilling medicine made of pure hydrocodone that addiction experts warn could set off a new addiction epidemic if it wins U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

Hydrocodone, better known as Vicodin, is currently the most commonly prescribed and the second most widely abused prescription drug in the United States behind OxyContin. However, hydrocodone is currently available only as part of a compound that includes the non-addictive painkiller acetaminophen. The new form of pure hydrocodone in development would be ten times more potent than the kind already on the market.

According to a CBS News report, San Diego-based Zogenix is on track to begin marketing this new drug, Zohydro, next year. Critics worry the new drug would not only be highly addictive in its time-release form, it would also be crushed by abusers seeking an immediate, intense high in the same way the hydrocodone OxyContin is abused.

Hydrocodone is classified as an opioid because it has potent, synthetic qualities similar to opium. Other opioids include codeine, heroin, methadone, morphine, and oxycodone.

April Rovero, president of the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse, told CBS news that she views Zohydro and similar drugs as “the next OxyContin.”

“We just don’t need this on the market,” she told CBS.

The CBS News report also notes that the $10-billion-a-year market for legal opioids is luring more and more pharmaceutical companies to manufacture them.

“It’s like the wild west,” Peter Jackson, co-founder of Advocates for the Reform of Prescription Opioids, told CBS. “The whole supply-side system is set up to perpetuate this massive unloading of opioid narcotics on the American public.”

Critics of the potent new drug say it will lead to more murders, pharmacy robberies, and millions of dollars in lost hospital revenues treating overdose victims. They also warn that thousands of patients with legitimate reasons to use potent prescription painkillers slide down the slippery slope to addiction. Still thousands of others use the drugs illicitly.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), deaths caused by prescription painkiller overdose nearly tripled between 1999 and 2008, when 15,000 painkiller overdose deaths were reported. In 2009, the number of deaths caused by prescription drugs in general exceeded the number of deaths caused by illegal street drugs for the first time in U.S. history.

According to CBS News, “Zogenix has completed three rounds of patient testing, and last week it announced it had held a final meeting with FDA officials to talk about its upcoming drug application. It plans to file the application in early 2012 and have Zohydro on the market by early 2013.”


CBS News