In the United States, prescription drug overdoses are responsible for taking thousands of lives each year. While efforts to promote abuse-deterrent drugs and the implementation of prescription drug monitoring programs has had some promising results, the drop in prescription drug overdoses and prescribing rates has led to a surge in heroin overdoses, HealthDay reports.
In 2010, the makers of OxyContin released a new version of the drug which incorporated abuse-deterrent properties. New research indicates that in the two years following the drug’s new formulation OxyContin related overdoses dropped 19 percent and prescriptions of the drug decreased 19 percent, according to the article.
“This is the first time in the last two decades that narcotic prescribing had dropped, rather than continued to increase,” said lead researcher Dr. Marc Larochelle, an instructor at Boston University School of Medicine.
“With the pill, you used to be able to crush it up and either snort it or dissolve it and inject it. Now if you try and crush it, it doesn’t turn into a powder — it just kind of balls up, and if you try and dissolve it, it turns into a goo,” Larochelle explained.
Unfortunately, the opioid epidemic exhibits the properties of a hydra, cut off one head only to be faced with another. In the same time period, the researchers found that the rate of heroin overdoses increased 23 percent.
“Reducing supply may have led some people who are abusing these drugs to substitute an illicit narcotic like heroin, and it may partially explain why we have seen an explosion in heroin use across the country,” Larochelle said.
Larochelle points out that simply altering drug formulations will not, in and of itself solve the drug abuse problem.
“But it shows supply could be one part of the issue. Abuse-resistant formulations will not cure people who are addicted to narcotics. It could, however, prevent or slow down the number of new people who become addicted, because many people who use heroin may have started with pills,” he said.
The findings were published in JAMA Internal Medicine.