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Is There A Such Thing As Abuse-Deterrent Painkillers?

What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the word, “Addiction”? You might think about drugs (if not a particular one) or alcohol, right? As often as the word is thrown around, we always seem to hear or read about someone being addicted to their smartphone or some popular TV show. Either one isn’t something I would consider addictive, but it’s still possible to get “hooked” on. You could really enjoy the features of the phone and let it stimulate your brain for hours at a time. You can get hooked on a TV show because it’s got a great story. To be honest, they are better described as vices or obsessions, not so much as an addiction.

The fact is that we all have our vices and obsessions. To be fair, some people believe that addiction is a choice, not a disease. The true definition of addiction is “The fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity.” A person could argue all day long until their face turns blue about being addicted to the cell phone because they’re constantly on it or that their favorite TV show is streaming on some online service allowing them to binge watch it which keeps from functioning on a normal schedule, but honestly it’s quite the opposite of addiction. Yes, both may be stimulating and intriguing, but they are both something that you can walk away from cold turkey if you tried.

Claiming to be addicted to something that isn’t addictive may be a form of expressing how you feel about a particular activity, but it’s not a laughing matter to those who have actually been troubled with that problem. Not everyone makes it out of addiction so easily and struggles daily. It’s no secret there are three categories of prescription drugs that are most abused: stimulants, depressants, and pain medication. Abuse of opiate-based pain medications has seen a serious increase, resulted in a sharp increase in fatal overdoses and some heroin addiction. In fact, more people have died from using prescription opioids than cocaine and heroin combined.


With all that in mind, makes you wonder where are all these people getting access to these dangerous drugs? Would you believe me if I said that drug dealers are not the main source of illicit drugs anymore? Research shows that the majority of all people who use opioids for non-medical reasons just so they can feel the “high” effects can get them from friends or family. Although many abusers are going straight to the doctors for their opioid pain relievers. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that health care providers wrote a massive 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012. That’s just about enough for each adult in the U.S. to have a bottle of pills. In 2013, opioids (including Vicodin and OxyContin) caused 75% of prescription drug overdoses, a whole lot more than cocaine and heroin combined.

To break it down more, the numbers of women that have died from prescription painkiller overdoses have increased over 400% since 1999, compared to 265% among men. For each woman whose death is caused by a prescription painkiller overdose, an average of 30 more goes into the emergency department for painkiller abuse. Even the CDC Director, Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. weighed in by saying that “Health care providers need to screen for abuse risk and prescribe judiciously by checking past records in state prescription drug monitoring programs. It’s time we stop the source and treat the troubled.”

Honestly, it is a little difficult to study abuse and addiction behaviors in great detail for various reasons. There’s really no way to tell 100% before it comes on to the marketplace unless extensive, costly, and time-consuming testing is done for confirmation. Furthermore, past experience has shown that abuse detected by post-marketing surveillance is more widespread than a lot of pre-approval studies. Experts warn of a risk that the protections are misunderstood and could mislead both users and those prescribed into thinking that the underlying medications are less addictive.

I admit that most of us knew a lot of this information already. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise for the rest that opioids can be abused in a variety of ways. However, did you know there are thousands of addicts who still find ways to abuse a deterrent form of OxyContin and similar painkillers? These are called “abuse-deterrent formulations” and are designed with the intention of minimizing drug abuse while maintaining effective pain control for the patients who have been prescribed. Now if you aren’t completely sure what the difference is between those two genres, please allow me a moment to explain.


OxyContin, itself, consists of strong potent levels of the opioid oxycodone. This medication was designed to allow the drug’s powerful effects to be released over a specified amount of time. If a person who didn’t actually need the drug, but wanted to get “high”, all he or she would have to do is crush the pill down into a powder and then snort it or they could simply dissolve it in liquid to drink it, if they didn’t want to use a syringe to inject the concoction.

Although when it comes to “abuse-deterrent formulations”, it makes the process of crushing that pill a little more difficult. You see, instead of a turning into a powder, it turns into a gooey gel that makes it next to impossible for snorting or injecting into a vein. We can all send our thanks to modern medical technology and the Food and Drug Administration for approving an abuse-deterrent version of OxyContin back in 2010, but the question now is, do these formulations actually deter abusers from doing what they want?

The FDA has mentioned that its deterrence features are “expected to reduce, but not totally prevent” abuse of the drug. For clarification, they define abuse-deterrent as “to meaningfully deter abuse, even if they do not fully prevent abuse”. By using the word, “Abuse”, it’s defined as “the intentional, non-therapeutic use of a drug product or substance, even once, to achieve a desirable psychological or physiological effect”. Granted, the technique of deterrence formulation technologies is relatively new, there is room for it to evolve into what it is intended for.

Right now, the Food and Drug Administration is doing the best they can for the time being with what they’ve got to prevent as many overdoses as possible by doing these steps:

• Keeping a watch on all drug overdose trends.

• Initiating protocols that require manufacturers to offer information that helps educate patients about the risks and benefits of their prescription drugs in order to prevent abuse that could result in overdose while ensuring patients have access to safe pain treatment.

• Strongly encouraging the development of more abuse-deterrent opioid formulations that will prevent abuse and possible overdose.

• Educating the public about the risks of prescription drug abuse.

However, the truth is that our Federal Government (including all the alphabet agencies) can’t do it all alone. To help, many of the states have picked up the slack where they can by:

• Integrating prescription drug monitoring programs to help keep track of each prescription for opioids and to single out the possibility of high-risks.

• Using medical claims data to identify improper prescribing of opioids.

• Starting up public insurance programs and plans to identify abuse of opioids.

• Passing state laws to reduce prescription opioid abuse.

• Having state licensing boards take legal action against inappropriate prescribing.

• Increasing access to substance abuse treatment and programs to the public.

It goes without saying that prescription drug abuse is one of the most critical public health concerns in the U.S. today. Even though the federal, state, and local agencies continuously focus their abilities on reducing prescription drug abuse, there is a point when each of us could step up to monitor our surroundings, including the people in it. One way to do that is knowing the symptoms of opioid withdrawals. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), early symptoms of withdrawal include:

• Agitation
• Anxiety
• Muscle aches
• Increased tearing
• Insomnia
• Runny nose
• Sweating
• Yawning

Late symptoms of withdrawal include:
• Abdominal cramping
• Diarrhea
• Dilated pupils
• Goosebumps
• Nausea
• Vomiting

Opiate withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from one week to one month. Research claims that emotional symptoms (low energy, anxiety, and insomnia) can last for a few months after someone stops taking high amounts of opiates. From what I understand, withdrawal can be very uncomfortable for that person. Although, each person will experience symptoms differently than the other, depending on their body mass and size. If you were to add the possibility that if the person is taking other drugs along with Opioids, they can remain in your system for various lengths of time, it may cause additional problems.

If you want to have a serious conversation about addiction, I’m sure there are plenty of recovering alcoholics and drug addicts who would be more than willing to discuss their prior habits at great lengths. Listen to what they say about thought process during their experiences to get a better understanding of what to look for if you start noticing something strange with a co-worker, family member, a friend, or someone else you know. You might be able to avoid any trouble that could come from being around them. If it’s someone who works for you, perhaps you should have them drug tested to confirm they are abusing. We, at Rapid Detect, offer a single dip drug test that can accurately detect Opiates in urine within a short amount of time.

If you’re at a business that doesn’t have a drug testing policy, this knowledge might help you identify a possible drug abuser. Just one abuser is more than enough reason to initialize a drug testing program at your workplace. If you have any concerns about drug testing in general, let us help ease your mind. Call to speak with one of our friendly knowledgeable sales consultants by calling toll free at (888) 404-0020 weekdays from 8 am to 4 pm Central Time or send them an email to anytime and they’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Don’t let this issue get out of control at your business. Not only would you be saving your business, it could end up saving a person’s life!



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