Do Drug Abuse Deterrents Work?

Posted in: Treatment

November 5, 2015

A person holding a pill

Pain is a common occurrence for many people. Some people struggle with long-term illnesses, others experience pain from injuries and others still have physical and psychological pain for unknown reasons. When a person is in severe pain, a doctor may prescribe her medication to help minimize the pain. Prescription opioids such as morphine, codeine, hydrocodone, fentanyl and oxycodone are commonly prescribed for pain management. While these drugs are often able to help a person deal with intense pain, they also have a high potential for abuse, and some people who use them develop either an addiction or dependence to them. Doctors and scientists realize the potentially dangerous nature of opioids, so they have begun developing abuse-deterrent opioids that have fewer addictive qualities. This research and development is still in its early stages, but researchers are hopeful that someday soon, people will be able to manage their pain without the fear of abusing opiates.

What are Prescription Opioids?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines opioids as medications that “reduce the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain and affect those brain areas controlling strong emotion, which diminishes the effects of a painful stimulus.” Different types of opioids have different strengths, and are therefore prescribed in different ways to treat various forms of pain. While these drugs can be safe when taken exactly according to prescription, the NIDA also explains that if they are abused, opioids can have serious side effects, including:

  • Addiction
  • Physical dependence, which can lead to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms if drug use is suddenly decreased or stopped
  • Extreme respiratory depression
  • Death

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2011, out of the 41,340 drug overdose deaths in the United States, 16,917, or about 40 percent, involved opioid abuse. Additionally, more than 420,000 emergency room visits were related to opioids.

Development of Abuse-deterrent Opioids

Since opioids have the potential to be so dangerous, doctors and scientists have been working to develop alternatives to traditional opioids. Robin Moorman-Li, et al. explains that abuse-deterrent versions of opioids are developed with the goal of producing a drug that exhibits the following characteristics:

  • Is safe and effective
  • Doesn’t easily endanger a potential abuser
  • Is relatively inexpensive
  • Deters abuse

The Food and Drug Administration lists some of the specific ways that researchers are trying to deter opioid abuse. These new opioid forms fall into one or more specific categories:

  • Physical/chemical barriers: these forms make the physical form of the drug more difficult to abuse by changing its properties; they can prevent the drug from being crushed, cut, chewed, grated or ground, or can use solvents to make the opioid in the medication harder to extract.
  • Aversion: with this form, the person experiences uncomfortable side effects if the dosage is abused in any way.
  • Agonist/antagonist combinations: these lessen or completely take away the sense of euphoria that some abusers feel when taking the drug.
  • Prodrug: in these types, the opioid in the medication is only activated once it is inside the person’s digestive system, making it more difficult to be abused intravenously or intranasally.
  • Delivery system: the amount of drug released over time is manipulated in these forms, making it harder to increase the dosage and thus abuse the drug.

While some of these drug forms haven’t been on the market for very long, and many are still in research and development stages, many scientists and doctors are hopeful that these drugs are decreasing opioid abuse, and will do so even more in the future.

Where to Get More Information about Abuse-deterrent Opioids

Drug abuse deterrents are a recent development in the field of pain management. Researchers are trying to find effective ways to treat severe pain without exposing patients to the risk of abuse, dependence or addiction. They are also trying to make recreational abuse of opioids much more difficult.

If you have struggled with opioid abuse in the past, need help and are wondering about the effectiveness of these new abuse deterrents, give our toll-free number a call at 615-490-9376. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to talk with you about how these drugs work, and how they might affect you.

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