If all goes accordingly, doctors will be able to prescribe Zohydro, an easily-crushable pain pill 10 times stronger than Vicodin, next month. What could go wrong? Pretty much everything. The potency of the drug combined with the United States's inability to curb its prescription drug abuse epidemic has doctors and addiction specialists worried about the drug's release into the market.
The main worry with Zohydro is the amount of hydrocodone it packs. Hydrocodone is in the class of medications known as opioid analgesic, which are used to treat moderate to severe pain, and can only be found in products with other ingredients like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, the National Institutes of Health explains.
Depending on the prescription, a Zohydro pill could contain up to 50 milligrams of hydrocodone— about 10 times the amount you'd find in Vicodin. "One capsule will pack enough hydrocodone to kill a child. An adult lacking a tolerance to opioids could overdose from taking just two capsules," Dr. Andrew Kolodny, the President of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing wrote in the Huffington Post. "It will kill people as soon as it's released," he added.
Zohydro's intended use will be relieving chronic and severe pain. For example, the drug could ease the pain for people living with cancer or arthritis, essentially people who need stronger painkillers. But the drug's opponents say that the United States's track record with abusing prescription painkillers proves that we're not ready for this pill's release. They have a point. Here's a graph from the White House showing the United States's alarming rise of overdose deaths due to opioid analgesics — the family of drugs Zohydro belongs to:
According to the Centers for Disease Control, "the number of U.S. drug poisoning deaths involving any opioid analgesic more than quadrupled" between 1999 and 2010, jumping from 4,030 to 16,651. And opioid analgesics factored in to 43 percent of drug poisoning deaths in 2010, comapred to 24 percent from 1999.
"Too many people have already become addicted to similar opioid medications, and too many lives have been lost," a coalition of health professionals and addiction treatment groups wrote in a letter to the FDA, begging them to reconsider their approval of the drug. "After the release of similar high-dose opioid analgesics, thousands of lives were lost from overdose and hundreds of thousands of medical and non-medical users became addicted," they added.
Zohydro's maker has ensured that the drug will come with warning labels.