Why Using Painkillers To Treat Chronic Pain Could Totally Backfire

A controversial new pain pill is slated to hit the market in March, and it’s stirring discussion about whether it’s wise to take prescription drugs for long-term pain at all.

Zohydro is a powerful new hydrocodone pill that targets patients who have chronic, long-term pain with a dose of hydrocodone that’s five to 10 times higher than other painkillers.

The chronic pain sufferers who will take Zohydro are exactly the people who shouldn’t be taking prescription opioids, according to Andrew Kolodny, chief medical officer at prominent addiction-treatment agency Phoenix House. He wrote about his concerns in The Huffington Post:

Opioids are excellent medications for easing suffering at the end of life. They are also effective when prescribed short-term to treat severe acute pain. But they don’t work well when taken on a daily basis for months and years. Over time, many people develop tolerance to the analgesic effects, leading them to require higher and higher doses. As the doses go up, quality of life and ability to function often declines. They can even make pain worse, as seen in a phenomenon called hyperalgesia.

Many veterans have experienced an increased tolerance to pain pills this firsthand. The Center for Investigative Reporting’s articles about over-prescription of opioids for veterans prompted a Congressional hearing about the issue.

One Veterans Affairs doctor told CIR that many of her patients developed such a tolerance to opioids from increasing doses over the years that they became “lethargic” and “not functional.”

Doctors and addiction treatment groups fear the new drug, Zohydro, could be particularly vulnerable to abuse. It’s an extended-release pill with a high dose of hydrocodone that is designed to be released slowly into a person’s body over a 12-hour period. Addicts looking for a quick fix could crush or chew the pill to get all the hydrocodone at once.

Health officials and state attorneys general have urged the Food and Drug Administration to revoke its approval of the new pill, arguing that it’s too dangerous.

Interestingly, an FDA advisory committee recommended against approving Zohydro, but the administration decided to go ahead and allow the drug to be released anyway.

Zogenix, the pharmaceutical company that makes the drug, sent us this statement about Zohydro: “Zogenix is fully engaged in implementing abuse deterrence initiatives, including developing an abuse deterrent formulation of Zohydro ER. We are currently evaluating two different technologies to ensure we develop the most effective formulation to minimize misuse and abuse.”

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