Concern Grows Over Actiq Misuse

Health experts and insurers have voiced concerns over abuse of the painkiller Actiq, a fast-acting prescription medication, the Wall Street Journal reported May 17.

Derived from opium, Actiq is sold in berry-flavored lollipops or lozenges by Cephalon Inc. of West Chester, Pa. It was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1998 to treat severe episodes of chronic pain in cancer patients who have become tolerant to opioid therapy.

But data from NDCHealth, a healthcare information company, finds that the drug’s use has expanded beyond cancer patients. Last year, the number of prescriptions written for Actiq increased considerably, to 321,463 from 77,478 in 2001.

Although Actiq’s label warns that the drug “is intended to be used only by oncologists and pain specialists,” the data shows that family-practice doctors and internists are also writing prescriptions for Actiq.

George Furlong, vice president of provider and payment services for Florida-based CHOICE Medical Management Services, a workers-compensation managed-care company, said patients with back or neck pain or other ailments are taking the drug four or more times a day.

According to addiction specialists, an increase in misuse and illegal trade of Actiq has resulted from the growing use of the drug. It’s being sold on the street under the nickname “perc-a-pop.”

“Actiq is designed to deliver a quick effect in the first place,” said Robert Bonner, vice president of medical claims and medical director at The Hartford Financial Service Group. “It is ripe for misdirection.”