Finally, some official recognition of what treatment providers and addiction experts have been saying all along: the reformulation of OxyContin is prompting painkiller addicts in rural and suburban communities across the country to switch to heroin, according to a letter published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Purdue Pharma’s new version of OxyContin, introduced in 2010, was designed to help discourage misuse and abuse of the medication. Three researchers examined the effect of the abuse-deterrent formulation on the abuse of OxyContin and other opioids, surveying 2,566 people seeking treatment for abuse of or dependence on opioid drugs. Although 24 percent found a way to defeat the tamper-resistant properties of the abuse-deterrent formulation, 66 percent indicated a switch to another opioid, with heroin the most common response.
According to the researchers:
“Our data show that an abuse-deterrent formulation successfully reduced abuse of a specific drug but also generated an unanticipated outcome: replacement of the abuse-deterrent formulation with alternative opioid medications and heroin, a drug that may pose a much greater overall risk to public health than OxyContin. Thus, abuse-deterrent formulations may not be the ‘magic bullets’ that many hoped they would be in solving the growing problem of opioid abuse.”
Purdue is currently fighting in federal court to extend its exclusive rights to OxyContin, which are set to expire in April 2013. The Stamford, Conn.-based company claims generic drug makers shouldn’t be allowed to market their copycat versions of the old version of the painkiller.