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Experts warn about potency of new pain pill Zohydro
By: Maria Miller
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. -- Johnstown-area drug addiction specialists are weighing in on a new pain medication that's set to hit the shelves in just a few weeks. It's called Zohydro extended release, and critics say it has a higher potency than any other pain reliever currently on the market.
Some doctors say it's a prescription that thousands of people with chronic and debilitating pain need to get through daily life, while others worry about its highly addictive qualities.
"As soon as these kinds of things come out and they're being prescribed, then we run into that and it becomes epidemic," said Annette Comiskey, of Conemaugh Health Systems' New Visions.
"These patients include those folks that have been in catastrophic car accidents and now have maybe an amputation or burn injuries that will never heal," said Dr. Brian Bruel, of MD Anderson Cancer Center.
But like any pain medication, it has potential for abuse and may be more deadly.
"It has five to 10 times more hydrocodone in a pure form that can be easily crushed, snorted or chewed," said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, chief medical officer of Phoenix House.
" ... Then you mix it maybe with alcohol or another substance, and it has a high likelyhood of overdose," added Comiskey.
The Food and Drug Administration approved Zohydro last fall in opposition to some of its advisors.
In a statement, drug maker Zogenix wrote: "The FDA concluded that the benefits of Zohydro ER outweigh the risks."
Some doctors said they welcome the new drug as a valuable tool for certain patients with chronic, debilitating pain that limits their quality of life, but drug addiction specialists and counselors like those at Conemaugh Health Systems' New Visions program, in Johnstown, said they're already seeing the red flags.
"This doesn't have the acetaminophen and things that upset your stomach, so there's a good chance it could be misused and abused," Comiskey said.
She said it's the same scenario she sees with patients every day; just another drug to add to the mix.
"We get people coming in and they were legitimately prescribed these, they became addicted, and then when it became a problem for them and they were overusing or misusing, they get cut off, and that's when they turn to heroin a lot of the time," Comiskey said.
She said she doesn't discount that these types of drugs are needed for some people with severe pain but said there needs to be stronger deterrents added to ensure they're not as commonly abused.
Zogenix said it's working on a form of the pill that will not crush as easily, but that could take years.