Trying to Keep New Opiate "Zohydro" Off the Streets

By Steph Machado

Published 04/03 2014 07:17PM

Updated 04/03 2014 07:37PM

MONTPELIER - Vermont leaders want to restrict access to Zohydro, a narcotic recently approved by the FDA.

Gov. Peter Shumlin (D-Vermont), Vermont's mayoral coalition and Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen gathered at Barre City Hall Thursday to announce emergency rules against the new high-dose narcotic.

"What puzzles all of us is the recent FDA action to approve a new opiate that's stronger...and likely to be even more addictive," Shumlin said.

"One might wonder if they're on the same planet," said Dr. Chen. He says the painkiller could become the next Oxycontin.

"Everyone would agree that Oxycontin and the way it was prescribed, the way it was overused, the way it was abused, contributed to where we are today," Dr. Chen said. He is referring to people that became addicted to Oxycontin and then turned to the cheaper, more readily available heroin to get their opiate fix.

Much concern is focused around the fact that Zohydro does not have tamper-proof technology, which can prevent pills from being crushed or liquified easily. Without that technology, Zohydro can be easily abused.

Fletcher Allen Health Care, the state's largest health provider, has already decided to never stock the drug. Under the new rules, even if a pharmacy did choose to carry the drug, doctors will have to prove that no other painkiller worked for a patient before prescribing Zohydro.

"These are strong rules. They are no advice, they are not guidelines. They are requirements," said Dr. Chen.

But the rules could be stronger; Massachusetts banned the drug altogether. Gov. Shumlin admits Vermont did not do they for fear of litigation.

"Whenever a state takes an action against the FDA, the federal government's recommendations or approvals...there may well be legal action. I expect Massachusetts is likely to confront that," Shumlin said.

The New England governors all signed a letter to Gary Doer, the Ambassador of Canada urging him to consider similar restrictions in Canada. There is some concern about opiates being brought over the border.

Zogenix, the company that makes Zohydro, released this statement, which reads in part:
"Zohydro ER is the only acetaminophen-free hydrocodone pain reliever available for long-term, daily, severe chronic pain is no more potent than any other hydrocodone medication available."

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