Yesterday the Food and Drug Administration made two sweeping decisions on the OxyContin in the market place. The first decision was to ban new generics making the original formulation of the drug, which would make it cheaper and more available to the public. The second decision was a change the labeling for the medication because it was reformulated in 2010 into turn to a gel when the pill is smashed and crushed rather than turning to a powder like other pills.

There has been a silent epidemic in the United States of drug abuse. We all know of the danger posed by heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines and how these drugs destroy lives. This is the reason these drugs are illegal and prosecution for manufacture and selling of them is so severe. But the abuse of prescription drugs, under the watchful eye of doctors, medical professionals and regulated by the government has gotten out of hand.

OxyContin is a painkiller that is derived from poppy, similar to morphine, heroin and codeine. It was approved for use in the US in 1995 and by 2007 Americans consumed 82% of the drug worldwide, or 51.6 tons and in (semi)practical terms over half a billion pills.

In 2003 the US Government Accountability Office said that three factors led to its abuse:

  • OxyContin contains a large amount of oxycodone compared with other types of oxycodone-containing pills.
  • OxyContin's warning label said to not crush the controlled-release tablets because of the potential for rapid release of oxycodone, which led to many people crushing the tablets and injecting or snorting the drug.
  • By 2001, sales of OxyContin in the US exceeded $1 billion per year.

The company that produces the drug, Perdue Pharma, was even successfully sued by the US government and had to pay $600 million. The company and executives pleaded guilty to "misbranding" the drug and misleading doctors and patients because it said that the medication was less likely to be abused than other narcotics. Perdue Pharma made over $1 billion a year from sales of the drug promoting it as a longer lasting pain relief narcotic compared to Vicodin or Percocet.

Crime related to OxyContin also soared as people saw it as easy to obtain and a habit that needed to be fueled by robberies and thefts. In 2011 there was a quadruple homicide in a Long Island pharmacy by an addict desperate for hydrocodone. It even came to the point that the pharmaceutical company is running a website that tracks drug related crime in partnership with local authorities all over the country and also educates local polica about perscription drug abuse.

It is because of this that the company had to go back to the drawing board and re-formulate the drug. Now if the time release pill is crushed, rather than become a fine powder easily snorted or injected, it becomes a gel that is semi-solid. This will be the only type of OxyContin sold in the US because at the same time the FDA ruled that there will be no generics of the original narcotic available.

As the noose tightened around abuse of OxyContin, another drug approved for pain management in 2006. Opana was moved to a crush resistant version in 2010 and the FDA approved of the reformulation in 2011. The old version of the drug is now discontinued, but much remains floating around on the grey and black markets. Nassau County, NY on Long Island issued an alert in 2011 after they saw that Medicaid data showed prescriptions for extended-release Opana had increased a staggering 45% in six months.

This is a good sign that the government and FDA are policing the prescription drug industry and preventing legal drugs from turning into illegal drugs.