Report: New Opioid Medications Are Encouraging Heroin Abuse

(REUTERS/George Frey)

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Harder-to-abuse opioid medications major pharmaceutical companies manufacture are encouraging heroin use, a study published Tuesday found.

Opioids manufactured with an abuse-deterrent formulation are designed in such a way that it prevents users from crushing and snorting the drugs, according to the Cato Institute report. But the inability to abuse such medications has led addicts to switch to more dangerous drugs, like heroin, to get their fix.

“Little evidence suggests that abuse-deterrent formulations of opioids are having the intended effect of reducing the opioid overdose death rate, and strong evidence suggests that they are contributing to the rise in heroin use and overdoses,” the report said.

“Data show that in recent years, the overdose death rate attributable to prescription opioids has stabilized, while the death rate from heroin has increased,” the report continued, noting that, for the first time, there were more overdose deaths from heroin than from prescription opioids in 2015. (RELATED: Big Pharma Accused Of Flooding Small Town With 20.8 Million Opioid Painkillers)

Users ultimately transition to heroin when abusable prescription opioids aren’t available, according to the report. (RELATED: How One Painkiller Ignited The Addiction Epidemic)

“When we combine heroin and opioid deaths together, we find no evidence that total heroin and opioid deaths fell at all after the reformulation — there appears to have been one-for-one substitution of heroin deaths for opioid deaths,” the report said.

The reformulated opioids even led to an HIV outbreak in one instance, according to the report. Abusers started injecting an opioid medication in an Indiana county after it was switched to an abuse-deterrent formulation, which resulted in 190 people testing positive for the autoimmune disease from sharing needles.

Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has encouraged manufacturers to focus on creating abuse-deterrent version of their opioids.

“The FDA should end its policy of encouraging [abuse-deterrent] opioids and particularly its goal of eliminating non-[abuse-deterrent] opioids,” the report said.

“Lawmakers should abandon efforts to require consumers to purchase coverage for costlier [abuse-deterrent] opioids and should instead allow insurers to steer medical users of these products toward cheaper, non-[abuse-deterrent] generic formulations,” it continued.

Also, reformulating opioid medications allows pharmaceutical manufacturers to extend the life of their patents, according to the report.

“The patent protections for many of the original opioid preparations have expired,” the report said. “When that occurs, competition from generic drugs reduces prices for opioids — and cuts into the profits of drug companies that first brought those drugs to market.”

Since the government is encouraging the prescription of abuse-deterrent opioids – which brand-name manufactures hold the patent on through extensions – the price of these drugs has increased, which is passed onto patients and taxpayers alike, according to the report.

“Specifically, requiring tamper-resistant properties … would have served to eliminate certain lower cost drugs from the market, increasing costs for patients and the health system, while having little to no effect in the fight against problematic opioid use,” the report said.

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