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Berginski: Anti-Zohydro crowd may be right

By Staff | Feb 28, 2014

A new painkiller is set to be available to patients in the U.S. this month, and it’s already got health care, consumer and addiction treatment groups wanting the Food & Drug Administration to revoke its approval. And for good reason.

The drug in question is known as Zohydro. According to a blog posting on Huffington Post by Dr. Andrew Kolodny, president of a group called Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, the drug comes in crushable capsules containing 50 milligrams of pure hydrocodone. Kolodny said that dosage has 10 times more hydrocodone in it than Vicodin, another prescription painkiller.

The Drug Enforcement Agency classifies pure hydrocodone as a narcotic. It is also classified as a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act. (Mixed with other drugs, like Tylenol or Advil-acetaminophen or ibuprofen- it becomes a Schedule III drug.) Schedule II drugs are drugs that have a “high potential for abuse” and addiction.

I’m for the easing of pain and suffering, as well as improving quality of life for patients with chronic pain. But fostering addiction, with the possibility of also fostering crime, is a different story.

Next to Ritalin, opioid painkillers, like hydrocodone, are some of the most abused, and most stolen, prescription drugs, according to a DEA list. What is to say that Zohydro won’t be a prime target for those who steal and peddle prescription drugs? Do you think those who engage in that sort of thing will give their customers safe dosing instructions, or care whether or not their customers overdose on it? Overdose symptoms include constricted pupils, slurred speech, slowed reaction time, and unstable gait. In worse cases, they include unconsciousness, being non-responsive even when shaken or screamed at, and not breathing-three things that can be fatal, according to a first aid article on About.com.

In his blog post, Kolodny wrote that opiates work well in the short-term for pain management, but not in the long term. Once someone develops a tolerance to a drug’s effects, more and more of that drug need to be taken to achieve the effects he or she so desires. He also wrote that opiates in the long term can lessen a patient’s quality of life, and it could possibly make pain worse, a condition known as hyperalgesia.

Several groups wanted the drug’s approval revoked, including Phoenix House (a nonprofit drug and alcohol rehab group), Public Citizen (a consumer advocacy organization) and BlueCross BlueShield.

The anti-Zohydro crowd may actually be on to something. Either Zohydro needs to have its approval revoked, or the company that produces it may need lessen the amount of hydrocodone in it.

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