On August 8, 2001 Chris Kahn of the Associated Press reported that
Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, has come up with blueprints for a
``smart pill'' that would be tougher to abuse. OxyContin is a
time-released prescription painkiller linked to a growing number of
overdoses and deaths. OxyContin can be easily abused because the
time-release mechanism is disabled when the pill is crushed and then
snorted. The new painkiller, which has yet to be named and would not
be available for at least three years, would destroy its own narcotic
ingredients if crushed into a powder and snorted or injected — the
typical manner in which OxyContin currently is abused.
``Addicts and abusers are going to find this very undesirable,'' said
Dr. J. David Haddox, senior medical director for Purdue Pharma LP of
Stamford, Conn. ``Before long they're going to say, 'Don't mess with that
stuff; that's no good.'''
Purdue spokesman Jim Heins said the drug could become an alternative to
their top-selling painkiller in areas like rural Appalachia where
prescription drug abuse is especially high.
OxyContin is a slow-release narcotic painkiller that is widely
prescribed for victims of moderate to severe chronic pain resulting from
such problems as arthritis, back trouble and cancer. One pill is designed
to last 12 hours, but abusers usually crush the medicine and then snort or
inject it, producing a quick, heroin-like high.
The drug has been blamed for contributing to more than 100 deaths
nationwide. Purdue, which has become the target of at least 13
OxyContin-related lawsuits in five states, says those estimates are
unreliable and that in the vast majority of those cases, the victims were
abusing other drugs at the same time.
Like OxyContin, which was introduced in December 1995, the new drug
would be for victims of moderate to severe chronic pain.
However, it would be embedded with microscopic ``beads'' of naltrexone,
a narcotic antagonist that counteracts the medicine.
The beads would be coated with a chemical to keep them from dissolving,
so the pain medication will work just like OxyContin if taken as directed.
But if the pill is crushed or chopped up, the coating on the beads
would break, releasing the naltrexone and canceling the drug's effects,
Purdue is still conducting tests on the new drug, which could be ready
in three years. Officials have not decided yet whether to make oxycodone
the active ingredient, or to include a different narcotic altogether, like
If the Food and Drug Administration approves the drug, it would be one
of only a few abuse-resistant drugs on the market. The first smart pill, a
painkiller called Talwin NX, uses an antagonist called naloxone to achieve
Richard S. Weiner, executive director of the American Academy of Pain
Management in Sonora, Calif., applauded the new formula.
``Hopefully, this will assuage law enforcement that ... painkillers can
be safe,'' Weiner said.
Purdue has been criticized for not reformulating OxyContin to be like
Talwin. Company officials decided against doing so, Haddox said, because
they were concerned that naloxone might create a ``ceiling'' effect in
OxyContin. Such a drug would not increase in potency past a certain point,
even if a patient takes higher and higher doses.
``We think this is a much more elegant solution to the problem,''
Purdue officials said the timing of the patent has nothing to do with
lawsuits from people claiming they're addicted to OxyContin and others who
want to hold the company responsible for illicit abuse of the drug.
This week, Purdue said it expects an international patent application
will be published on their ``sequestered naltrexone'' technology, an
initial step that expedites the formula protection process in some
countries. Heins said the company also will seek individual patents in the
United States, Japan, Europe and other major markets.
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