WEDNESDAY, July 11 (HealthDay News) -- A new version of the prescription painkiller Oxycontin that makes the medication harder to abuse does not appear to reduce drug abuse. Instead, the drug seems to drive people toward more dangerous opioids, including heroin, a new study suggests.
Oxycontin has been popular among drug abusers since the mid-1990s, when a slow-release version entered the market. Although this version was supposed to discourage abuse because swallowing it did not give people a "high," it had the opposite outcome. The pills contained a larger dose of medicine, and people quickly figured out how to crush or dissolve them in water to snort or inject for an even bigger payoff, the study authors said.
"This had the effect of kicking off the epidemic of prescription-drug abuse that we have in this country right now," said Theodore Cicero, a psychiatry professor at Washington University in St. Louis and co-author of the new study.
The answer was an abuse-resistant Oxycontin, released in August 2010, which is formulated to make crushing or dissolving the pills in water all but impossible.
"There has been a reduction in the abuse of Oxycontin, which was, of course, the predicted ... effect," Cicero said. "We had some hypotheses that drug abusers would shift to [another opioid], but we didn't anticipate what would occur with heroin."
To explore how the new form of Oxycontin affects drug use, Cicero and his colleagues conducted surveys on patients who were at treatment centers for the abuse of prescription opioids for about a year and a half before and after the release of abuse-resistant Oxycontin. The researchers collected surveys from more than 2,500 patients at 150 drug treatment centers in 39 states.
The initial results of their study were published July 12 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Whereas Oxycontin was the major opioid
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