Drug Companies Working to Reduce Misuse of Painkiller

Tamper-proof pills and revised drug formulas are being used by pharmaceutical companies to reduce the likelihood that painkillers are misused, the Washington Post reported June 14.

At Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin, about 19 researchers are exploring ways to make non-addictive or less addictive pain relievers.

“There’s a whole biology we’re starting to pull apart,” said Charles Grudzinskas, who will chair a session this week on the “Quest for Non-Abusable Opioid Analgesics” at the annual meeting in Puerto Rico of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence, a group that has focused on addiction and pain relief since the 1930s. “We’re making progress, but this is very hard — like trying to thread a needle without any glasses on.”

Researchers have found that morphine-based painkillers are the most effective relief for severe post-operative and chronic pain. The challenge for researchers is to make the painkillers less prone to misuse without reducing their effectiveness for patients.

At Endo Pharmaceuticals in Chadds Ford, Pa., another major producer of painkillers, research is focusing on chemically encapsulating the opioids in painkillers to make it more difficult to extract the narcotic.

“We call it the Fort Knox approach,” said senior medical officer Bradley Galer. “We want to tweak the formulation, so if the abuser crushes a pill and takes some of the powder, the opioid would still be in extended-release form and there would be no sudden burst of drug.”

However, experts aren’t expecting a breakthrough any time soon. “To have a medication that’s devoid of abuse potential and has good analgesic effect is highly desirable, but I know nothing at this point that would do it,” said Frank Vocci of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “We hope compounds will become available with reduced abuse liability, and that they will push the more abusable compounds out of the market. But this is such a complicated field that I see no single, absolute solution or silver bullet.”