Experts warn of potent new painkiller Zohydro - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Experts warn of potent new painkiller Zohydro

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- It's a new and potent painkiller and local experts worry the soon-to-be-released Zohydro ER could create more problems for addicts and those who treat them.

The new drug is made of pure hydrocodone and does not have some of the safety features now included with other painkillers.

Critics claim it is five to ten times more powerful than Vicodin or OxyContin and say they worry that Zohydro will be too easy to abuse.

Unlike with current versions of OxyContin and other painkillers, experts say users will be able to crush Zohydro and release 12 hours of drugs at once. That much pure hydrocodone could be addictive or worse.

"The scariest thing with this is that it will kill people if not used for legitimate purposes," said Paula Porter, clinical director of The Morton Center in Louisville, a drug abuse treatment facility.

The FDA approved Zohydro last October over objections of doctors, counselors and even its own advisers.

"My hope would be that it would be delayed enough to come out with the formula that is abuse-resistant, then that cuts down the likelihood that somebody can crush it, inject it, snort it," Porter said.

Zohydro's maker, Zogenix, says it may be three years before a crush-resistant version is available. 

The company says there is a demand for the drug to help people manage their pain, and it will go on sale this month.

Abuse of painkillers and heroin became widespread in Kentucky after OxyContin was first prescribed in the mid-1990s.

Controls over pain clinics, over-prescribing doctors and development of pills harder to crush eased the problem somewhat, but also pushed addicts to heroin.

"We already see such a rise in heroin deaths just within our facility that I think this just adds another factor for overdose," Porter said.

Attorneys general from Kentucky and Indiana and several other states asked the FDA in December to reconsider its approval of the drug.

"We believe your approval of Zohydro ER has the potential to exacerbate our nation's prescription drug abuse epidemic," the letter read in part.  "State Attorneys General do not want a repeat of the recent past when potent prescription painkilling drugs entered the market without abuse-deterrent qualities and without clear guidance on how they were to be prescribed," the letter continued.

Kentucky's drug control policy director Van Ingram is blunt, telling WDRB News, "I can't see the need." Ingram, too, wishes the FDA had waited until a crush-resistant version was available.

Ky. U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. Hal Rogers also are critical of the FDA's approval and have asked how the agency might limit the drug's abuse.

Porter wants people to be aware of the drug now -- and ask questions about its uses, side effects and dangers.

"It has legitimate pain use. But for us working with addiction, we want to educate and provide as much information as we can ahead of time, and maybe that will help them to make different choices for themselves."

The FDA says doctors will prescribe Zohydro as a Schedule II narcotic, with no refills allowed.

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