The Richmond Register

January 5, 2012

Pure hydrocodone pain pill in testing

Critics worry about abuse

By Tara Kapowry
Kentucky Health News

— A new pain pill, one more powerful than OxyContin and 10 times stronger than Vicodin, is being tested on patients by four drug companies and could be out as early as 2013. The new medicine, which is a pure form of hydrocodone, has law enforcement in Eastern Kentucky worried, reports Ralph B. Davis of the Floyd County Times.

“In my personal opinion, a drug like that shouldn’t be a prescription medication,” Floyd County Coroner Greg Nelson told the Times. “It should strictly be an in-house medication.”

Drug maker Zogenix of San Diego plans to apply early next year to begin marketing Zohydro, a time-released drug intended to manage moderate to severe pain, reports Chris Hawley of The Associated Press. The drug has completed three rounds of testing.

Critics worry abusers will simply crush the pill to get an intense, immediate high.

“I have a big concern that this could be the next OxyContin,” said April Rovero, president of the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse.

The companies defend the drug by saying pure hydrocodone “would avoid liver problems linked to high doses of acetaminophen, an ingredient in products like Vicodin,” Hawley reports. “They also say patients will be more closely supervised because, by law, they will have to return to their doctors each time they need more pills.”

But, critics remain unconvinced and are worried about the larger ramifications of the pills being on the market.

“Hydrocodone abuse is already a tremendous problem in Southern and Eastern Kentucky,” Karen Kelly, executive director of the government-funded anti-drug program UNITE, told Davis. “When used properly, these medications help many who are experiencing moderate to severe pain. Unfortunately, we have seen how easily the system can be abused.”

Davis expressed his own views in an editorial that ran earlier this week. “The pharmaceutical companies developing Zohydro and other copycat drugs clearly must know that their products will kill people,” he wrote. “They see it happening every single day. And they have been warned that the problem is growing worse.”

Davis referred to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that in 2008, an average of 40 people a day in the United States died as a result of prescription painkiller overdoses, a 400 percent increase over 10 years.

“Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical companies raked in billions in profits, and financial speculators are taking note,” Davis writes. “Since stories about concerns over Zohydro first began appearing over the weekend, Zogenix’s stock has skyrocketing nearly 70 percent ... To put it bluntly, this is horrifying.”

Kentucky Health News is a service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.