Business, Finance & Economics

New painkiller 10 times stronger than Vicodin worries experts


A new painkiller has drug abuse experts concerned it could be the next OxyContin.


Mario Tama

A new painkiller that is 10 times stronger than Vicodin may be on the market as early as 2013.

The painkiller, Zohydro, is one of four new brands of painkillers that contain a pure version of highly addictive hydrocodone. Zogenix, the San Diego pharmaceutical company that developed the drug, has already put it through three rounds of testing, and announced last week that it had held a meeting with Food and Drug Administration officials to discuss its upcoming drug application, CBS News reported

If approved, it will be the first time consumers are able to purchase pure hydrocodone, an opiate in the same family as substances like morphine, heroin, oxycodone, codeine, and methadone. Other painkillers on the market mix the powerful drug with nonaddictive painkillers like acetaminophen, according to CBS. 

"I have a big concern that this could be the next OxyContin," said April Rovero, president of the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse. "We just don't need this on the market."

OxyContin was introduced in 1995 by Connecticut-based company Purdue Pharma, and is made with oxycodone, which is now the most abused medicine in the United States, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration's annual count of drug seizures, the AP reported. Hydrocodone is the second most abused. 

OxyContin users discovered they could circumvent the drug's time-release feature by crushing the pills, and by the time the company made the product more tamper-resistant, addicts had moved on to generic oxycodone products. 

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Pharmaceutical companies argue that the new painkillers help doctors offer patients another tool to combat legitimate pain. 

"Sometimes you circulate a patient between various opioids, and some may have a better effect than others," said Karsten Lindhardt, chief executive of Egalet in Denmark. The company is currently testing its own pure hydrocodone product.

Pure hydrocodone pills would help patients avoid liver problems linked to high doses of acetaminophen, an ingredient in products like Vicodin, said drug companies. Patients taking the drug will be also be closely supervised because they will have to return to their doctors to refill their prescriptions, unlike hydrocodone-acetaminophen products, which can be refilled up to five times, CBS News reported.

The US consumes 99 percent of the world's hydrocodone and 83 percent of its oxycodone, according to a 2008 study by the International Narcotics Control Board. 

DISCUSSION: What do you think about pure hydrocodone pills? Are they more harmful than helpful? Let us know in the comments.