The makers of the widely abused painkiller OxyContin say they've come up with a new way to treat chronic pain and prevent misuse by abusers.
Purdue Pharma has developed a so-called smart tablet technology that will make snorting or injecting painkillers like OxyContin impossible.
The new medication will contain both a painkiller and a drug called naltrexone, which counteracts the effects of the narcotic.
The pill would be embedded with microscopic beads of naltrexone in a special coating to keep them from dissolving when swallowed.
But if the pill is crushed or chopped up, as it often is if being used improperly, the naltrexone beads would burst, the chemical would be released, and the drug's narcotic effect would be cancelled.
"If you take the pill like you're supposed to you get pain relief. If you try to tamper with it you get nothing," says Dr. J. David Haddox of Purdue Pharma.
OxyContin has proved to be a big problem for Purdue Pharma. The drug, prescribed to treat chronic pain, is also easily abused and has claimed countless addicts and more than a hundred lives. The company is being sued for its alleged aggressive marketing of the product.
But company officials say the development of the new painkiller is not in reaction to its problems, and OxyContin will remain on the market.
"There may be a million patients taking OxyContin right now who are taking it as directed and are benefiting from it, and we don't see any reason to penalize those patients," says Haddox.
If all goes well with human clinical trials and Food and Drug Administration approval, Purdue Pharma hopes to have its new painkiller on the market in about 3 years. But critics say that is too long to wait for a solution, and the company is not off the hook when it comes to taking more immediate steps toward ending OxyContin abuse.
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