Back in 2010, Purdue Pharma, the maker of America’s most prescribed pill, Oxycodone, agreed to re-formulate the highly addictive and very commonly abused medication.
To me is seemed like a no-brainer for the manufacturer to take a few simple steps to help make a safer product. But Purdue Pharma was in a tough place: keep making the dangerous and highly abused drug, and enjoy record profits, or re-formulate, reduce abuse potential, but sell less product.
Obviously this decision is all speculation, but that had to have been on the minds of the people running the multi-billion dollar company.
The 2010 re-formulation made the drug resistant to chewing, crushing, breaking or dissolving in water, which means that smoking or injecting the pills is nearly impossible. Popular Science tried to abuse the new pills a few years ago, here is a look at the new formulation being crushed and dissolved in water:
Purdue Pharma launched the new product nearly 5 years ago, so let’s check in and see if the new formulation had any effect on the market, both legal and underground.
The answer is simple, it worked. Some key signals are:
- 20% decrease in overdose rates
- 19% drop in prescribing levels
A quick Google search landed me at the following graph from Drugs.com showing OxyContin sales for 2011, 2012 and 2103:
Although we can’t see pre-2010 data, this does show the greater trend of falling use and, assumed abuse. This must be a huge victory for addiction and better health in America right? Well, not so fast. This effort from the drug maker is a play in the long-game. These abuse resistant pills will keep new users from abusing OxyContin, and will save countless lives in the next-generation. For the current generation, those addicted to OxyContin, this new formulation makes their problems worse.
Taking pills away from active addicts doesn’t take away their addiction. The most common path if for users who can’t score Oxy’s is to move to a similar and available high: heroin.
Since 2010, when OxyContin went abuse-resistant, heroin overdoses in the US have jumped 23%.
Knowing all this, I will call the re-formulation a success, but know that it’s only a piece of the puzzle. Another large piece is to treat and care for those battling addiction. Like I always say; prevention and treatment go a long way!