Pain Medication Addiction: Who is Responsible?


You just have to search the term “opioid abuse” on and a host of articles, commentaries, and news items will appear. One recent web exclusive, “Reformulated OxyContin Leads to Increased Opana Abuse” talks about how a new formulation of OxyContin has made its abuse more difficult, but has increased the abuse of another drug—Opana—which brings added risk of addiction and overdose. The topic warranted a cover story in USA Today that intertwined the drug abuse angle and subsequent overdose deaths to a subject that affects pharmacies across the country—namely, pharmacy robberies.

Drug abuse is a national problem, and it affects the society as a whole. But just whose responsibility is it? Pharmaceutical companies have reformulated the pills so that these medications cannot be crushed, broken, or dissolved, but law enforcement reports that addicts either find other options or take larger quantities of legal prescription pain medications. The newer Opana drug was very recently redone to be crush-resistant. Yet it’s a constant battle to stay ahead of the problem.

“It’s almost like a game of Whac-a-Mole,” Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, told USA Today. “You get a handle on OxyContin; they switch to Opana. My guess is it will be something new tomorrow.”

Pharmacists are caught up in the middle of drug diversion and abuse. They are ones dispensing the pills, dealing directly with patients and potential drug abusers, and often putting their own lives in danger as we have seen in the news. They are the health professionals who work hand-in-hand with local authorities to report abuse and suspected abuse. As our readers know, one of our regular columns written by Commander John Burke, an industry expert on pain medication abuse, chronicles this ongoing battle. He often brings up the issue of accountability from all sides—from the national pharmaceutical companies to the local communities to the individuals abusing these drugs.

Another recent news story on focused on the friends and family who often are the source of illegal pain medications in the first place. A report from the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy stated that the majority of first-time or casual abusers of prescription drugs get the drugs from friends or family members. According to the data, 68% of those who began misusing pain relievers in the last year were given the pills by a friend or relative for free or took them without permission; 17% got the pills via prescription from 1 or more doctors; and 9% purchased them from an acquaintance, dealer, or over the Internet.

What is most shocking about this report is the fact that these are first-time abusers, who then go on to become addicts and commit crimes such as pharmacy robberies. Again, where does the personal responsibility lie? As you read this issue of Pharmacy Times, which focuses on pain management and the steps being taken to curb opioid abuse, it’s worthwhile to seriously consider that question.

Thank you for reading!

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