Abuse Deterrent Opioids Linked to Increased Rate of Heroin Overdose Deaths

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Abuse Deterrent Opioids Linked to Increased Rate of Heroin Overdose Deaths

Researchers at the Rand Corporation and the University of Pennsylvania have concluded there is a direct link between abuse-deterrent OxyContin and the recent marked increase in heroin overdoses in the U.S.

The study, recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, revealed that non-medical use of OxyContin has declined by 40% since the reformulation in 2010, but fatal overdose deaths involving heroin have risen 300% since that time:

“Our results imply that a substantial share of the dramatic increase in heroin deaths since 2010 can be attributed to the reformulation of OxyContin.”

That is, in 2010, an abuse-deterrent reformulation of OxyContin was released by Purdue Pharma, a reboot that made the pill significantly harder to crush, inject, smoke, or snort. The first of its kind, it was marketed as a key to curbing the opioid addiction and overdose epidemic.

There’s no question, Purdue Pharma has been guilty a number of times of misleading consumers about the risks related to its popular painkiller, OxyContin. In 1996, Purdue Pharma began aggressively marketing OxyContin as both safe and non-addictive.

For example, Purdue plead guilty in 2007 to charges of misrepresenting OxyContin’s abuse and addiction potential to doctors. Per the deal, Purdue paid out $600 million and agreed to develop an abuse-deterrent formulation.

In May of last year, the L.A. Times conducted an investigation of OxyContin’s painkilling abilities and found that patients began feeling pain within hours after the initial dose, resulting in withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Moreover, these symptoms led many patients to seek out heroin for relief.

Physicians had also complained to Purdue that patients were not experiencing pain relief from the recommended two daily doses of the drug. Purdue told physicians to increase the strength of the pills, rather than the number of doses per day – resulting in more revenue for Purdue, as sales reps earned larger commissions for selling higher-strength products.

In many instances, however, the higher-strength doses still did not result in 12 hours of relief. And even more troubling, higher-strength doses increased the likelihood of an overdose. Many studies have supported this fact, including one in 2011 that found an increased overdose death risk directly associated with increased dosages.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

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