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Zohydro: Beneficial Painkiller or Deadly Drug?

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

April 8, 2019

Zohydro, a new opioid prescription opioid painkiller, packs a deadly punch that could fuel the prescription drug epidemic. Learn more about the dangers of this drug today.

Zohydro, a new opioid painkiller set to become available to patients this month, is causing a firestorm as a coalition of more than 40 healthcare, consumer and addiction treatment groups are opposing the drug’s launch. While the FDA approved the medication last fall for the treatment of chronic pain, addiction specialists worry that the drug is simply “too deadly” and could quickly become the “next OxyContin” – increasing the already high number of prescription drug overdose deaths.

Zohydro, a hydrocodone-based drug, is the latest in a long line of painkillers known as opioid analgesics. These drugs, like OxyContin, suppress an individual’s ability to perceive pain by reducing the number of pain signals sent by the central nervous system to the brain. While opioid analgesics are effective for managing moderate to severe pain, they are also easily abused. These drugs produce euphoric feelings similar to morphine and heroin. Over time, individuals can become dependent on these medications in order to function on a daily basis. Sadly, it’s all too common for individuals to go from taking the drugs occasionally for pain management to grinding or snorting the drugs for an intensified high.

Prescription Drug Abuse: A Growing Epidemic

Prescription opioid overdose deaths have more than quadrupled since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention. Doctors write more than 300 million prescriptions for painkillers each year – that’s enough prescription drugs for every adult American to be medicated around-the-clock for 30 days. For every individual who suffers a fatal overdose, 32 people visit the emergency room because of misuse. Now, in the midst of a prescription drug epidemic, healthcare, consumer and addiction advocates worry that Zohydro will only fuel this crisis.

Last October, the FDA approved Zohydro. In a decision explaining the approval, FDA’s Bob Rappaport, MD, Director of the FDA’s Division of Anesthesia, Analgesia, and Addiction Products wrote, “I firmly believe that the benefits of this product outweigh its risks.” Zohydro’s maker Zogenix strongly maintains that the drug’s benefits – sustained pain management for individuals suffering from chronic pain – more than outweigh the drug’s risks.

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Zohdyro is Five Times the Normal Dosage for Hydrocodone Medication

Healthcare, consumer and addiction specialists, however, disagree. Zohydro is the only approved extended-release product that contains the man-made opioid hydrocodone. Worse, Zohydro will be available in doses as high as 50 milligrams per pill. This is five times the dosage amount currently used in immediate-release hydrocodone pills. And while the pill is created to be an extended release, individuals could still tamper with the drug in an effort to release the medication all at once – with potentially deadly results. According to Dr. Andrew Kolodny, the president of the advocacy group Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, “It’s a whopping dose of hydrocodone packed in an easy-to-crush capsule. It will kill people as soon as it’s released.”

While the FDA maintains that the drug is safe, the FDA did announce plans last October to shift hydrocodone-containing drugs from Schedule III to Schedule II. While the rescheduling is still pending approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the rescheduling means that doctors and pharmacies will have to follow tougher prescribing rules. Zohydro is also set to enter the marketplace as a Schedule II drug, which the FDA and Zogenix say will help limit the drug’s ability to be abused.

Help for Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drug abuse can happen to anyone, especially individuals who are struggling with chronic pain. If you or a loved one is abusing prescription painkillers, there is hope. The right treatment program can help you or a loved one take the first steps towards long-term sobriety.

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