Warnings over new painkiller 'super drug'

Sen. Charles Schumer on Capitol Hill. (Dec. 17, Sen. Charles Schumer on Capitol Hill. (Dec. 17, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

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A new "super drug" under federal review would only intensify the painkiller-abuse crisis that has already led to killings at two Long Island pharmacies, officials warned Sunday.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged the federal Food and Drug Administration "to proceed with great caution" before approving sale of a pure hydrocodone pill -- which he said is 10 times stronger than Vicodin. At least one pharmaceutical company has said it will soon apply to the FDA for approval.

"It would instantly become the most sought-after drug by addicts and criminals," Schumer said at a news conference in Manhattan. "It would make the crisis go from bad to worse."

In releasing his letter to the FDA, Schumer cited the local spike in prescription drug-related crimes, noting last June's murder of four people at a Medford pharmacy and the Dec. 31 fatal shooting of an off-duty federal agent during a Seaford drugstore holdup.

David Laffer, the Medford killer, and his wife, Melinda Brady, acquired nearly 12,000 pain pills -- including hydrocodone -- in the four years leading up to the crime.

An FDA spokeswoman declined to comment Sunday on Schumer's letter or its drug-review process.

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The drug's maker, San Diego-based Zogenix, said in an email to Newsday that some of the claims cited by Schumer are incorrect.

Spokeswoman Catherine O'Connor wrote that the drug is not 10 times the strength of Vicodin if directions are followed. Further, she wrote that because the chemical used in Tylenol, which can harm the liver if used too often at too high a dose, is not in the drug, it is safer than other hydrocodone-based pharmaceuticals.

But Schumer suggested the FDA balance patients' needs for a more potent painkiller with concerns with how the drug would be marketed and distributed. Approval, he said, should be contingent on making pills "tamper-proof" and perhaps even restrictions that they're only administered under a doctor's supervision.

Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said he supports Schumer's proposals but urged lawmakers to also push harder for more drug-treatment options.

"Dealing with the supply side of things is nice," Reynolds said, "but the demand is still out there. You still have a huge pool of folks who are knee-deep in addiction."

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