Delaware restricts prescriptions of controversial painkiller

Delaware Secretary of State Jeffrey Bullock has ordered emergency regulations that make it harder for physicians to prescribe the FDA-approved painkiller Zohydro.

Effective Wednesday, Bullock said that the emergency regulations are necessary to address the imminent danger to public health, given the potential for prescription drug overdose, abuse and diversion.

Zohydro is an extended-release hydrocodone that is controversial because it lacks an abuse-deterrent formulation. Typically, prescription medications have physical or chemical barriers that make a drug ineffective if chewed, crushed, ground, or that make the drug resistant to opioid extraction when diluted with water. 

“The use of this new and dangerous narcotic painkiller known as Zohydro must be monitored closely because the abuse of it can be deadly,” Bullock said. “It carries even higher risks of abuse than other short-acting formulations.”

Equal opportunity affliction

Delaware Department of Health and Social Services said the number of people addicted to legal opiates has skyrocketed over the last two decades. DHSS’ Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health has tracked adult admissions to state-funded addiction treatment centers since 1987. Back then, 25 people were addicted to opiates.

That figure jumped to 1,793 and 1,261 in 2012 and 2013 respectively. 

“I think that the reason we’ve seen a wider distribution of opiate addiction in our state and across the country is because pain is an equal opportunity affliction,” Division Director Steve Dettwyler said. “A lot of people get access to opiates for the first time through pain treatment and then they become addicted to it … and I think that’s why it’s become a more of a general problem in our society.”

Unfortunately, Dettwyler said, as the state has cracked down on access to pain meds, more people have moved to heroin, which is significantly cheaper and provides that same euphoric high.

Under the emergency rule, prior to prescribing a painkiller like Zohydro, a medical practitioner must conduct and document a thorough medical evaluation and physical examination as part of the patient’s medical record.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick had ordered an outright ban on Zohydro in January. That decision was blocked by a federal judge three months later after the drug maker filed a lawsuit.

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