PHOENIX - For months, one of the most abused prescription drugs has been replaced by a new formulation, making it more difficult to abuse, but it may also be less effective for patients who need it the most.
Every once in a while, the phone at Melrose Pharmacy rings with a question, and the pharmacists suspect the guy on the other end of the line is a potential thief.
The man asks if the store carries one of the most prized drugs on the street. The answer, from owner Larry Yee, is 'no.'
“They ask us if we have the old oxycontin and fortunately they don't make that anymore,” Yee said.
Oxycontin, a synthetic opioid pain reliever, is one of the most abused drugs in the U.S. Illicit demand for the drug has also led to a rash of pharmacy robberies in the Valley and across the country.
Last year, however, Purdue Pharma, the maker of Oxycontin, gained FDA approval for a reformulation of the drug, and began distributing it to pharmacies in August. The new formulation contains a coating which is supposed to make the drug more difficult to crush, snort, or dissolve so it could be injected. It’s designed to make OxyContin more difficult to abuse.
“Although the new formulation may not prevent all abuse of Oxycontin, it’s a step in the right direction,” said Anita Rayner of the FDA in June.
Not long after the drug hit store shelves, problems were reported. Some patients reported the pills were difficult to swallow. Others reported odd aches and pains which they attributed to the new coating. Still other patients, many of whom suffer from chronic pain, said the drug simply wasn’t as effective.
In October, Purdue sent a letter to doctors and pharmacists acknowledging problems with swallowing pills, and changed package inserts to address the issue, but so far, the manufacturer has not acknowledged various reports the drug is less effective.
“The FDA approved the reformulation as bioequivalent to the original version,” said James Heins, a spokesperson for Purdue, who addressed a list of questions from ABC15. “Based on this, it is expected that the reformulation of OxyContin will perform similarly to the original version.”
Nonetheless, complaints persist. “I do hear some from some people saying the new formulation doesn't work as well for them, but I've had other people who've switched over with no problems,” Melrose Pharmacy’s Larry Yee said.
Heins said Purdue and the FDA continue to gather reports of issues and problems with the new formulation. The company wouldn’t share the specific data with ABC15, but said many of the reports are common side effects of the drug, including nausea and vomiting.
There are also reports addicts have already discovered a way to chemically separate the coating from the active drug, thus circumventing the formulation. Purdue said it has received similar reports, and is investigating.
The company also said there’s no evidence the drug’s new formulation is less subject to abuse or overdose, despite the FDA’s endorsement.
Back at Melrose Pharmacy, Yee said he believes the new formulation is a deterrent for crooks, but that doesn’t mean his staff isn’t vigilant in spreading out supplies of the drug in different places, and making sure cameras watch the whole operation 24 hours a day.
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