Drug Summit Focuses on Unabusable Prescription Pills

Many of the nation’s leaders met last week in Orlando to strategize on new ways to combat the nation’s prescription drug epidemic.

At the National Rx Drug Abuse Summit, government agencies and health care providers discussed strategies to curtail drug abuse and addiction. Part of the focus of the summit was on how scientists can reformulate the most abuse drugs to render them “unabusable.”

Keynote speaker Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, called on pharmaceutical companies to continue to work on ways to deter drug abusers from tampering with prescription pills.

The National Rx Drug Abuse Summit was organized by Operation UNITE, a Kentucky anti-drug group. Conference organizers hope to foster more cooperation between various agencies that are dealing with the nation’s prescription drug epidemic. Conference topics include education, prevention, treatment and law enforcement.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has described Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee “ground zero” for the America’s prescription drug problem. Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, has reformulated the drug to make it “sticky” and harder to cut or crush – even releasing a new version that is called OxyNEO. Drug abusers previously crushed the pill and inhaled or injected the powder.

A second company, Acura Pharmaceuticals, has developed two technologies to inhibit drug abuse. One uses a polymer that turns to gel when abusers try to dissolve a pill. The gel will not go through a hypodermic needle. The second technology, called Aversion, causes intense nasal irritation when a pill is crushed and inhaled. Aversion has been approved by the FDA and is currently being used for Oxecta, an immediate-release oxycodone drug. The company plans to use Aversion for other narcotic prescription drugs like Vicodin and Percocet.

Other approaches that are being tried by pharmaceutical companies include gummy pills that can’t be crushed and pills that are only effective when they are exposed to digestive enzymes in the stomach. Acura Pharmaceuticals has also developed a technology called Impede that limits the amount of methamphetamine the can be extracted from pseudoephedrine, one of the active ingredients in over-the counter nasal decongestant Sudafed. Acura expects Impede to reduce the methamphetamine yield by half.

Many drug abuse experts feel that pharmaceutical companies are responsible for creating what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call a national drug epidemic. The CDC reports that an American dies from a prescription drug overdose every 19 minutes.

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear also addressed the Drug Summit’s 700 attendees. Besher described how painkiller abuse is filling the nation’s jails and causing misery for families. Kentucky has one of the worst state overdose rates — more than 1,000 Kentuckian die each year from prescription drugs. Besher called on states to work together to fight prescription drug abuse.

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