New Technology Can Help Prevent Drug Abuse

Throughout history, we have been presented with challenges that demand innovative solutions. Whether it was fashioning tools out of stone to build safe habitats or inventing vaccines to keep us safe from terrible diseases, humans have thrived because we adapt and overcome.

Scientific innovation brought forth amazing medicines to alleviate severe pain, and millions have benefited from it.  But sadly, these powerful medicines have also been illegally abused contributing to one of the great scourges of our time.

While definitely a “hot button” topic for lawmakers, policy experts and law enforcement, all have struggled to find solutions that effectively answer the real question. How do we provide pain relief to those in need while also stopping those who abuse these legal medicines?

Thus we are left with a conundrum.  Do we continue to manufacture and prescribe these medicines for those who need them, or do we take drastic measures and restrict availability in an effort to restrain drug abuse?

Fortunately, the same scientists who invented these medicines have come up with a solution: abuse-deterrent opioids, or ADOs. These innovative new formulations are targeting known or expected routes of opioid abuse using a variety of methods.

For example, one type of ADO contains physical or chemical barriers, making the opioid incapable of being crushed, injected or extracted using common solvents like water or alcohol. Another uses an “antagonist,” which interferes with, reduces, or defeats the euphoric effects when an opioid is abused. And yet another ADO contains a “prodrug,” which delays opioid activity until in the gastrointestinal tract, making it difficult for intravenous or intranasal opioid abuse.

ADOs are currently focused on extended-release medicines to more directly target the problem of abuse. Though more prescriptions are written for immediate-release opioids, abuse is more prevalent with extended release formulations which contain significantly more active opioid per pill.

While perhaps not foolproof, ADOs are a significant step forward in winning the war on drug abuse. A recent report from Washington University published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that out of 11,000 users studied at 150 different drug-treatment facilities, only 25% were still able to abuse a particular ADO.

Reducing opioid abuse has significant benefits, including a reduction in health care costs, increased work productivity, and lower criminal justice costs. Of course, the greatest benefit is to society as fewer loved ones lose their lives to the scourge of drug abuse. As many in law enforcement will say – anything to reduce the number of opioids in medicine cabinets, where teenagers and their friends can get their hands on them, is a step forward in this epidemic.

ADOs offer an opportunity to effect real change in the war on prescription drug abuse. But these innovative medications are useless if insurance companies choose not to cover them.

It is time to work together and win this fight by putting our faith in innovation.

Dr. Kyle Keeney: Dr. Kyle Keeney is Executive Director of the Kentucky Life Sciences Council.  KLSC works with industry and government leaders to promote effective legislation that encourages investment and innovation in the sciences.