HealthDay News — Opioids that have features that make them hard to abuse may be linked to a drop in both the number of prescriptions and overdoses of these drugs, according to a new study published online in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Marc Larochelle, MD, MPH, an instructor at Boston University School of Medicine, and colleagues used data from a large health insurer with 31 million members. The authors looked at claims for opioids from 2003 through 2012, noting introduction of abuse-deterrent OxyContin (oxycodone HCl extended-release tablets) on Aug. 9, 2010, and market withdrawal of propoxyphene on Nov. 19, 2010.
The researchers found that two years after the opioid market changes, total opioid dispensing dropped 19% and the rate of prescription opioid-linked overdoses dropped 20% across the United States. However, the rate of heroin overdoses increased by 23% during the same period, according to the researchers.
“Reducing supply may have led some people who are abusing these drugs to substitute an illicit narcotic like heroin, and it may partially explain why we have seen an explosion in heroin use across the country,” Larochelle told HealthDay.
Changing the formulation will not by itself solve the drug abuse problem, Larochelle said. “But it shows supply could be one part of the issue. Abuse-resistant formulations will not cure people who are addicted to narcotics. It could, however, prevent or slow down the number of new people who become addicted, because many people who use heroin may have started with pills,” he said.
Larochelle MR. Rates of Opioid Dispensing and Overdose After Introduction of Abuse-Deterrent Extended-Release Oxycodone and Withdrawal of Propoxyphene. JAMA Intern Med. 2015; doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.0914.