Purdue Pharma has long claimed that its reformulated version of OxyContin, OP, is safer because it is “abuse-resistant” – although critics have pointed out that many opioid-addicted people simply swallow the pills whole. (Addicts are also already finding their way around allegedly tamper-proof versions.)
Now, the company has come out with a series of new studies which found – unsurprisingly – that the reformulated version of the painkiller has appeared to reduce abuse of the product. The studies, which were presented at the annual meeting of the American Pain Society, found that after reformulated OxyContin was introduced, there was a 49% reduction in the number of individuals abusing OxyContin among prescription opioid abusers. Within this population, the number of people who abused OxyContin orally declined by 30% and abuse by injection and snorting of the drug declined by 73%, Purdue said.
What the studies didn’t note was that ramifications of the reformulation include addicts turning to other painkillers like Opana and an increase in heroin addiction, according to a letter published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine. 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 those 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’s findings come amid criticism of other pharmaceutical companies for pushing extended-release versions of powerful painkillers like hydrocodone, which is currently the second most-abused medicine in the U.S. behind oxycodone.