Prescription Painkillers: Companies Attempt Abuse-Proof Opioids

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The company thinks PF329 may also be effective at curbing oral, multiple-pill abuse. Sturmer said an additional investigative technology specific to PF329's chemistry can control the biological mechanism that modulates the release of the opioid.

"There's a progressive inhibition of the release of the drug," Sturmer said. "The more you take, the less ability your body has to activate the delivery system."

Data from human trials have demonstrated the efficacy of the molecular delivery system, although data on the oral, multi-pill abuse technology have been limited to animal models.

Physicians Play a Role

Webster, from the Salt Lake City pain clinic, recently described the PPF329 mechanisms in a presentation at the American Academy of Pain Medicine meeting in Washington. He noted that he serves as a consultant to PharmacoFore, but maintained that the technology was promising and could be a new approach to safer opioid prescribing.

Although making drugs less abusive would be helpful, it's unlikely to prove a panacea for the epidemic of painkiller abuse.

"The biggest problem we have is that there are too many people on opiates for pain when there's no evidence whatsoever that they work," said Dr. Richard Ries, professor of psychiatry at the University of Washington, referring to a lack of long-term data on long-acting opioids.

"It's great to have different opiates that people can't abuse," Ries added. "That will protect against some diversion. But it's really a fraction of the huge population of opiate-dependent people we have in the U.S."

Dr. Charles Argoff, a neurologist at Albany Medical Center, agreed that more effective physician prescribing is key to any hope of mitigating the nation's addiction issues.

"A drug can be designed more safely," Argoff said, "but we really have to use this class of drugs in a more optimal way."

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