The explosion of addiction to prescription drugs has largely been dominated by abuse of prescription painkillers. The drug OxyContin has been the favorite of prescription drug users for several years, but has recently been dethroned by another powerful opioid named Opana. News from around the country shows that all across the nation, people who misuse prescription painkillers now prefer Opana.
The problem of prescription drug abuse has been called an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most recent available statistics are for 2010 and that year prescription drugs were the cause of 1.3 million visits to hospital emergency rooms. That figure represents a 115 percent increase since the year 2004.
Abuse of prescription drugs has also been behind a surge in pharmacy robberies. In June of this year a pharmacy robbery took place in Indiana during which the pharmacist was handed a napkin on which had been written a list of demanded drugs. The pharmacist was threatened with death if he did not comply. Opana was on the list. In this case, police apprehended the robber, but the incident was the 11th such robbery so far this year in the state.
There is a reason behind the switch from OxyContin to Opana. In 2010 the makers of OxyContin reformulated their drug to make it more tamper-resistant. The new formulation of OxyContin is harder to crush or dissolve. Painkillers like OxyContin and Opana have a time release coating which abusers want to bypass. If users can crush the drug, it can then be snorted or injected for an intense high. When manufacturers make doing so more difficult, users simply move on to the next available drug.
Opana ER (extended release) has recently also been reformulated to deter abuse. As long as the previous form of the drug remains on pharmacy shelves, it is preferable to OxyContin. However, once only the new form of Opana ER is available, law enforcement believes that users will just as quickly switch to another drug. They anticipate that heroin will become the next drug of choice.
Several other states have also taken note of OxyContin’s replacement. Ohio’s drug monitoring program has noted the switch. So has New York where prescriptions for Opana shot up 45 percent within a matter of months. Delaware and Pennsylvania have seen 40 mg tablets of Opana sell for upwards of $65 each. Kentucky may be seeing the worst of it. There, Opana’s key ingredient oxymorphone was identified in two percent of overdose deaths in 2010 but by 2011 it was involved in 23 percent of overdose fatalities.
Law enforcement agents suggest that Opana abuse has not peaked out quite yet. They expect the problem to grow even worse before addicts move on to the next drug.