Editorial: Make sure painkillers are tamper-resistant
With the city in a lethal prescription painkiller epidemic, federal regulators would be derelict beyond belief to approve new versions of narcotics for sale that are not abuse-resistant.
Between 2002-03 and 2008-09 -- the latest figures available -- self-reported nonprescription opioid use rose 40 percent here. About 263,000 New Yorkers older than 12 reported misuse. Prescription painkillers played a part in 173 unintentional overdose deaths citywide in 2010 -- 30 percent more than in 2005.
In April, OxyContin, a highly addictive narcotic, will be available in generic form. Beyond that, the federal Food and Drug Administration is weighing whether to approve a new, more potent substance called Zohydro ER, which is hydrocodone in an extended-release capsule.
Hydrocodone as well as oxycodone, the key ingredient in OxyContin, belong to a group of addictive medications including morphine and codeine. If the FDA allows either product to hit the market, it should make sure they're sold only in tamper-resistant, abuse-deterrent formulations.
Since 2010, OxyContin has been formulated to prevent addicts from crushing pills into powder and heightening their potential for abuse.
But Zohydro ER poses another threat.
It would be the first pure hydrocodone available for sale. Its purity would eliminate the risk of liver damage that can result from the long-term use of currently available hydrocodone, which is combined with acetaminophen.
Yet it could be 10 times stronger than what's available now -- and that could make it more attractive for abusers.
An FDA expert advisory panel voted in December not to approve Zohydro ER without crucial, tamper-resistant formulations. Still, the FDA is not bound by the recommendation. The agency could allow the drug to reach the market as early as this summer.
The last thing the city needs is a flood of new, more powerful narcotics in forms that would seem to beg for abuse.