The New OxyContin Formulation

Over the last three weeks, at least five of the opioid addicts I’ve admitted to treatment said they wanted help because they couldn’t abuse the new form of OxyContin.

 And I say: Hallelujah! It’s about time!!

 This new tablet, approved by the FDA in April of this year, appeared recently on the black markets of this area, replacing the older, more easily abused OxyContin. The new tablet is bioequivalent to the older tablet, meaning the same amount of oxycodone, the active ingredient, is available to the body when swallowed whole, as it’s meant to be. In other words, the same amount of pain reliever is given to the body. However, it’s more difficult to crush for the purpose of snorting or injecting, because it turns into a gummy ball.

Purdue Pharma, the drug company that makes OxyContin, admits this new formulation isn’t abuse-proof, but hopes it will be more resistant to abuse.

The patients I’ve talked to say the new tablet is a big disappointment. One patient, who usually chews her pill to get a faster high, said it was like trying to chew a jelly bean. Other patients said they could crush the tablet, but got a kind of gelatinous mess that was impossible to snort or inject.

 For pain relief, the opioid in OxyContin lasts much longer when it’s taken as directed and swallowed whole. Addicts prefer to crush and snort or inject because of the quick high they feel with this route of administration. But when used in this way, it leaves the body faster, and the addict usually needs to find more opioid within six to eight hours to avoid withdrawal.

Before I applaud Purdue Pharma for this change, my cynical mind asks a few questions: Why didn’t the company make this change earlier?

In 2002, a Purdue Pharma representative testified before congress, saying that the company was working on a re-formulation of OxyContin, to make it harder to use intravenously. This representative said they expected to have the re-formulated pill on the market within a few years. (1)  But it took eight more years.

Sterling, the drug company that makes Talwin, another opioid pain medication, was able to re-formulate their drug within a few years when they discovered it was being abused frequently. This was in the 1980s, when, presumably, medication technology wasn’t as advanced as today. Sterling added naloxone, an opioid blocker that’s inactive when taken by mouth, but puts an addict into withdrawal when it’s crushed and injected. It worked great. Talwin isn’t a commonly abused drug.

 I’m assuming that Purdue Pharma holds the patent for this new formulation that makes their tablet gummy when crushed. Purdue probably teaches its sales staff to market the new OxyContin as a safer option than older versions, perhaps available in cheaper generics. So did they wait to re-formulate until their patent was ready to expire? I don’t know, but time will tell.

At any rate, this drug is now just a little bit safer, for now. People with addictions are often clever and creative. I won’t be surprised if soon there’s a way to defeat this new technology.

Just think what addicted people could do, if they directed their talent and intelligence in ways that would help and not hurt them. There would be no stopping them.

1. United States Senate. Congressional hearing of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, on Examining the Effects of the Painkiller OxyContin, 107th Congress, Second Session, February, 2002.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by JustSayNaToTheDEA on December 22, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    Necessity is the mother of invention and this is why addicts are often very clever, because they HAVE to be, not because they simply are.

    BTW – The move by Perdue to make this change when they did was not coincidental it was all about the money, it always is. Perdue did not create Oxycontin to benefit man but to improve its bottom line by creating a product that by its makeup will guarantee return customers. That’s not to say that humanity did not benefit in some way from this for the patients for whom this drug was originally intended, the end of life cancer patients and similar scenarios, those whom addiction is not a concern since they are at or near EOL (End of life) . However if Purdue had forecasted a break even on its investments in the drugs development you can bet it would have not seen the light of day.

    An example of an unintended benefit from Perdue’s Oxycontin is Buprenorphine (aka Suboxen/Subutex) . Without the large number of abuse cases from Oxycontin related addicts its unlikely Buprenorphine would have made it to the retail stage for the demand for something like it would have been much smaller. Even without Oxycontin you had opiate addicts (i.e heroin users) and so there was a demand for a Buprenorphine like drug but it was not till Oxycontins wide spread use and then abuse did the need rise to a level worth development of a drug.

    The bottom line is no agency of the government should be allowed to tell any American citizen what they put in their body period. Even though opiate abuse is a very bad thing, it is the right of a free society that its citizens be allowed to choose for themselves what they do. This does not mean said choosers/abusers should be allowed to harm others, and I mean physically harm such as hitting someone while driving under the influence. It means that the durg enforcement end of the DEA’s responsibilities is technically unconstitutional but because we’ve been taught for generations that its ok to legislate morality to some extent we let the government do these kinds of things.

    I got hooked on opioids for neck pain from an accident and was able to get off after being on them for a few years and I thank God that Suboxone was there to provide a mechanism to get off the opiates without months to possibly years of withdrawal related madness. And even though as of today (after being on Suboxone for 3 years) I have no desire to take a true opiate and I still firmly believe it’s not the governments business to stop someone from putting an opiate in their body if they want to .

    A government regulation over anything does not curb its use. What it does do is bring in the criminal element and it makes that which was desirable even more so because it is now illegal. In addition to this you have the same additional side effects that come from anytime organized crime gets involved. I know that doctors and therapists especially in the area of addiction treatment do not like this but the fact is we would be better off if the government did not try to regulate what someone can or cannot put into their body.


    • Interestingly, in this nation we did have nearly unregulated drug availablity in the early 1900’s, at least to cocaine and opioids. But American public saw the number of addicts rise as a result of easy availability, and felt that the fabric of society was deteriorating. Americans demanded laws to regulate addicting drugs, of course with the exception of nicotine and caffeine. So our country’s experiment with drug legalization didn’t go well, in the view of most people.

      Are we any different now? Not biologically.


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