Drug abusers are increasingly switching to more potent opioid drugs including heroin due to reformulation of often-misused pain killer OxyContin, says a new study by researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine. The formula change has made snorting or injecting the drug more difficult.
OxyContin was the more potent version of the generic drug oxycodone. It contained large amounts of the drug as it was designed for slow release into the system. This made it a drug of choice for abusers looking for an immediate high who could crush and snort the pills or dissolve it in water and inject the solution.
To prevent its misuse, the drug was reformulated in 2010. The formula change made the pills difficult to crush or dissolve in water.
A survey of 2,500 patients at 150 rehabilitation clinics across 39 states over a three-year period that questioned the patients about their habits in light of the reformulation of OxyContin confirmed the decline in the abuse of the drug.
As part of the survey, when questioned on which drug the patients had abused at least once during the last 30 days, the number of people who reported using heroin nearly doubled.
Principal investigator Theodore Cicero from the Washington University School of Medicine said: "When we asked if they had stopped using OxyContin, the normal response was 'yes.' And then when we asked about what drug they were using now, most said something like: 'Because of the decreased availability of OxyContin, I switched to heroin.'"
"The most unexpected, and probably detrimental, effect of the abuse-deterrent formulation was that it contributed to a huge surge in the use of heroin, which is like OxyContin in that it also is inhaled or injected," he added.
According to the principal investigator, this discernible shift towards heroin was dangerous as dealers always diluted the drug, which could lead to cases of overdose becoming common.
The study appeared in the July 12 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
by RTT Staff Writer
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