New painkiller brings worry to Lansing workers

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Every afternoon, Lansing behavioral aide Melissa Matkovich counts and distributes pills to her brain-injured clients, monitoring closely to ensure their safety.

Across town, pharmacist Polly Cove of Knight Drugs fills prescriptions and educates her customers about the medications they are taking to ensure their health.

Their duties require accuracy, precision and attention to detail. Unfortunately, jobs such as theirs may become even more difficult as early as this spring.

Zohydro, a new opioid painkiller ten times stronger than Oxycontin, is currently awaiting FDA approval to hit the market, leaving many people in medical fields concerned.

Dr. Andrew Kolodny, president of the Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP), is one of the pill’s most vocal opponents. He specializes in treating opioid addiction. Despite objections from groups such as his, Kolodny fully expects it to be approved in as early as a few months.

“It’s a very dangerous product; there’s no medical need whatsoever,” he said.

If approved, Zohydro would the first of its kind to contain pure hydrocodone. This could spell trouble for areas within Michigan, a state already vulnerable to prescription drug abuse.

In 2009, the State of Michigan held the Rx/OTC Drug Abuse Summit to address the growing problem of prescription drug abuse. The report determined that Michigan ranked among the top five states within the nation for prescription drug abuse. It also noted that “more people [in Michigan] die… from opioid painkillers than from cocaine and heroin combined.”

News of the painkiller’s potential approval concerns Matkovich.

“It’s just another drug for people to be tempted to abuse,” she said. “Maybe not for our specific program because we keep such a close eye on our facility, but it makes it harder for other people [in this field].”

Eight months into working as a behavioral aide for CBI Rehabilitation, Matkovich said she has never experienced a scenario where a client has abused prescriptions. However, she said her clients have told her about stealing prescription medications from facilities they were housed at before.

One rehab marketing professional stated, “I think of one [client] in particular who’s a recovering heroin addict,” she said. “I could see a drug like [Zohydro] being very dangerous around someone like that. I don’t see this drug as doing much good at all.”

A representative from Zogenix did not return calls for comment. Zogenix’s website promotes the pill as extended release, meaning a patient would have to take fewer pills per day, and acetaminophen-free, meaning less damaging on the liver.

Kolodny, who specializes in treating opioid addiction, said these benefits are not worth the risk. He stated that there are already options, like oxycodone or morphine, already in place for patients who need painkillers without acetaminophen.

“Their argument that they’re creating a safer product makes absolutely no sense,” he said. “It will be another Oxycontin, in the sense that it will have a high street value and be sought after,” he said. “It has no tamper resistance so it will be crushed and snorted.”

Cove is also aware of this potential for addiction and the potential problems it could cause for pharmacists like her. She said Knight Drugs is located in a safe building complex, but there is always a possibility of addiction-fueled robbery to obtain illegal narcotics.

“You don’t want to live in fear, but you definitely want to be aware of your surroundings,” she said.

Cove also stated she does feel that there could be a place on the market for Zohydro, but only if tamper-proof measures were taken to prevent crushing and snorting. She said the strength of one pill also scares her, and she questioned the strength of the pill.

“Seeing the drug addicted patients, the normal healthy people go down that slippery slope of addiction – it’s heartwrenching,” Cove said.

– Becky Fritter

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