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Avoid Zohydro: A Bad Opiate Gone Worse

Physicians and counselors who treat people with substance use disorders, especially opiate addiction, have expressed concern about the recent FDA approval of Zohydro. It’s a new pain pill offered by a California-based company called Zogenix. It’s an opiate pain reliever, a category of medications that already causes about 16,000 overdose deaths per year. So why do we need another opiate pain medication on the market?

Many people are crying foul against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its approval of Zohydro. The FDA’s own advisory committee voted 12-2 against approving it, but the FDA ignored their vote. The FDA’s Dr. Rappaport insists that the benefits of Zohydro outweigh its risks because it comes without the addition of acetaminophen, which causes liver damage. However, there are many other analgesic choices available for those at risk for liver failure.

Here’s why critics want the FDA to reverse its decision: This new drug’s formulation will offer five times as much hydrocodone as the current batch of average hydrocodone medications. It will also be a time-release medication, easily tampered with so that people who want to abuse it can get a full rush of the hydrocodone at once instead of an extended release as intended by the manufacturer.  This is just the opposite of what happened with OxyContin when Purdue Pharma in 2013 recognized the need to protect people against abuse and rendered it more tamper-proof. Now we have Zohydro, a stronger medication and easily tampered with. 

Many people believe that the FDA has become the lapdog of Big Pharma. With the passage of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act in 1992, the FDA began charging pharmaceutical companies a fee to subsidize the drug approval process. Last year, the FDA recouped $300 million from that fee alone. The pharmaceutical companies and their lobbyists put a lot of pressure on the FDA to make quick decisions and put drugs on the market as quickly as possible. Whether or not the FDA views a given pharmaceutical company as its important client and thus caters to it remains unproven, but it can definitely be said that many professionals are disagreeing with FDA approval of this drug.

Increasing numbers of physicians are recognizing the real harm of opioid pain medications. The New York Times reporter Barry Meier has published two books about prescription pain medication, and so the message is getting out to an even wider circle of professionals. In A World of Hurt: Fixing Pain Medicine’s Biggest Mistake, Meier says that opiate addiction is not the only negative effect of these types of pills. Opiates also induce lethargy and slow down a person’s system. Hormone production decreases and constipation increases. Sleep apnea has been linked to opiates—as have listlessness and depression.  This drop in energy affects a person’s interest in fostering good relationships and even in having sex. Workers comp studies demonstrate that injured workers who take opiates are less likely to return to work. People who take opiates, he says, “basically opt out of life.”

Like any opiate, people who take Zohydro will quickly develop a tolerance for it. Despite the amount of hydrocodone that it introduces into your system, once you take it for a while you will need more in order to achieve the same level of pain relief. If your doctor offers you a prescription for Zohydro, you should consider asking for something else. If you have a loved one who has been prescribed Zohydro, have a serious talk with them about other ways to manage pain and the serious consequences of opiate addiction. 

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