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Editorial: Don't let painkillers that are easy to abuse

Residents can safely dispose of expired or unused

Residents can safely dispose of expired or unused medications during a “Shed the Meds” event on Saturday. Credit: Newsday, 2012 / Audrey C. Tiernan

With the nation and the region in the throes of an epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse, it would be derelict beyond belief for federal regulators to approve new versions of narcotics for sale that are not abuse-resistant.

Long Island has tragic experience with such painkillers. Last year they were responsible for at least 20 overdose deaths in Suffolk and seven in Nassau. And in June 2011, four people were slaughtered by a drug-seeking couple during a pharmacy robbery in Medford.

Starting this month, OxyContin, a highly addictive narcotic, will be available in a new generic form. Meantime, the Food and Drug Administration is weighing whether to approve a new medication called Zohydro ER, which is the narcotic hydrocodone in an extended release capsule.

Hydrocodone, as well as oxycodone, the key drug in OxyContin, belongs to a group of addictive medications that includes morphine and codeine. The FDA should make sure both medications are sold only in abuse-deterrent formulations. For instance, since 2010, OxyContin has been formulated so that the pills can't be crushed into powder, the preferred form for abuse. When crushed they become a gel or paste.

Zohydro ER potentially poses an even greater threat of abuse. It would be the first pure hydrocodone available for sale. Its purity would eliminate the risk of liver damage that can result from the long-term use of currently available hydrocodone, which is combined with acetaminophen. Yet it could be 10 times stronger than what's available now -- and that would make it even more attractive to abusers.

An expert advisory panel voted in December that the FDA shouldn't approve Zohydro ER without tamper-resistant formulations. But the FDA isn't bound by that recommendation and could allow the drug to reach the market as early as this summer.

The last thing the nation needs is a flood of powerful narcotics in forms that just invite abuse.


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