Opioids, most commonly used as painkillers, are not only increasing addictions, but the death toll from overdose is growing at a frightening rate. According to an American Society of Addiction Medicine report, 33,091 people died from an opioid overdose in 2015. In 2016, one in 9 heroin deaths in the U.S. happened in Ohio. Since 1999, the number of fatalities from these painkillers has quadrupled. Also, the economic cost of the addictions is mounting at a substantial rate.
Reversing the direction of the opioid addiction problem in the United States is becoming a primary objective in the pharmaceutical industry and for the U.S. Government. Some painkilling prescription drugs have worked very effectively in recent years, but these have become a major target of doctors and lawmakers as the number of severe opioid addictions continues to rise. Researchers are striving to replace some of the current opioid compounds with safer, yet still effective drugs that ease the pain without the same addictive tendencies as existing painkillers like oxycodone and fentanyl. These drugs have resulted in widespread addictions and even overdose deaths.
Reaction to the Growing Opioid Epidemic
Working diligently to find a viable solution is the highest priority. With many drug companies investing resources in the search for a non-addictive painkilling alternative, the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office has placed top priority on curbing the addiction results by advocating more education for physicians.
One step in the quest to control the distribution of potentially dangerous opioids has been to monitor the flow and false marketing of these pharmaceuticals. Some companies have faced lawsuits relative to this misleading information. According to a CNBC article, one company, Purdue Pharma, paid $635 million in fines for misleading marketing, indicating that their opioid, OxyContin, was safe to use and downplaying potential habit-forming effects. The fine came after Purdue Pharma had earned over $31 billion in revenue from sales of the drug.
New Alternatives to Treating Opioid Addiction
Painkilling without an addictive result is the primary mission for developing new products and strategies. Clearly, a new product that can resolve pain without any possible addiction is the ideal answer. No drug by itself has met FDA’s final approval yet.
However, products that treat or offset the addictive aspects of the opioids are available. In 2013, the FDA approved a drug named Zubsolv that treats the addictive effects of opioid painkillers by combining buprenorphine and naloxone. The product, taken orally, works best in conjunction with counseling and ongoing psychosocial support to attack an individual’s opioid dependency. Another product, Probuphine, is implanted in the skin on the upper arm of the patient and is intended to remain in place for six months. This treatment uses buprenorphine also. The FDA approved this product in June 2016, and it is now considered the new hope for alleviating the opioid addiction that is sweeping the country.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Probuphine could be the game-changer for reducing addiction. The real advantage to having the drug implanted is to ensure that the individual receives the proper dosage administered daily to make sure that the person does not allow the treatment to lapse.
Over 2.5 million people in the U.S. suffer from opioid dependence, according to drugabuse.gov. The World Health Organization recognizes that treating opioid addiction is a multifaceted problem requiring the use of some drug treatments to reduce the effects and counseling to help the patient deal with the cravings.