New Trends in Painkiller Abuse

Prescription pain pills are currently some of the most widely abused substances by addicts. While some prescriptions are legitimately prescribed for chronic pain issues, there's also a large amount being bought, sold, and traded to narcotics addicts in order to obtain a potent high. These pain pills are often just as potent as heroin and will produce the same effects - and the same withdrawal symptoms - if addicts cannot get their fix.

In recent years, drug manufacturers have put safeguards in place to try to make it harder to abuse painkillers. Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of the powerful and popular painkiller OxyContin, has changed the formulation of the pill. If addicts try to crush or dissolve the new version of the pill, it results in the pill becoming gummy and viscous and, therefore, much harder to abuse. OxyContin can still be taken orally, as it was originally intended, but addicts look for the "high" that is associated with the rapid absorption of the drug through snorting or injection, as this circumvents the time-released nature of the drug and produces a quicker, stronger high. While this measure has helped to curb the abuse of OxyContin specifically, there are plenty of other prescription painkillers that are available to addicts that can still be easily abused. One of the newest pain pills of abuse is Opana, manufactured by Endo Pharmaceuticals.

Opana was introduced in 2006 as a drug to treat chronic pain. Just like OxyContin, Opana is very potent, and can easily lead to overdoses when abused. Since OxyContin has been reformulated, Opana has taken over as the painkiller drug of choice for addicts. Endo Pharmaceuticals has followed suit with Purdue Pharma, and in 2010, they put a proposal in with the FDA to have a new, safer formulation of the drug on the market. This measure was just approved by the FDA earlier this year, and therefore the last of the old formulation of the pills is just coming off the market.

What has resulted is a dangerous cycle of addicts switching between drugs to try to get a hold of the ones that are the easiest to abuse. One law enforcement official referred to it as a vicious game of whack-a-mole: as soon as officials get the use of one drug under control, the next new drug pops up in the forms of ER visits and overdoses. Some physicians are taking new steps to ensure that painkiller prescriptions are being taken the right way; patients can be required to come in for urine testing and pill counts and can also have their names run through a database to check to see if they have prescriptions that are being written by more than one physician. While these precautions are a step in the right direction to curtail and prevent abuse, these checks are often optional for physicians.

With the abuse of prescription painkillers only continuing to rise despite the safety measures that have been put into place by pharmaceutical companies and physicians, opiate addiction continues to plague substance abuse treatment providers, hospitals, and law enforcement officials. Pain pills can be illicitly sold for as much as one dollar per milligram on the street, and addicts are quickly figuring out that a much more economical solution is to buy and use heroin. This in turn leads to increases in transmittable diseases, overdoses, crime, and death. It is more important now than ever for law enforcement officials, physicians, and treatment providers to unite against the deadly disease of addiction.


Jessica Parks is a certified alcohol and drug counselor in the state of Illinois and has her M.A. in art therapy counseling.

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