By TIMOTHY W. MARTIN
In the latest sign of how entrenched the nation’s epidemic of painkiller misuse has become, people are also abusing treatments meant to cure their addiction.
Titan Pharmaceuticals Inc. plans to file for Food and Drug Administration approval in September for a matchstick-size implant of buprenorphine, a drug that eases withdrawal symptoms. Current versions of the drug normally come in a pill or strip, but many are being diverted to the black market and taken to get high, because they contain small amounts of opioids, or used more heavily by addicts than they should be to relieve withdrawal symptoms, according to Titan as well as law enforcement officials.
Buprenorphine is abused by injecting or snorting crushed tablets, according to the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland, the same methods addicts use to get high from oxycodone or any other powerful painkiller.
The San Francisco-based biopharmaceutical company is hoping to cut down on abuse of buprenorphine by offering the implant–called Probuphine–which is inserted just under the skin in the upper arm and releases continuous, small doses of the drug over a six-month period. “You cannot easily remove these implants from the arm,” said Katherine L. Beebe, a senior vice president with Titan.
Drugs like buprenorphine are on the market in ever greater quantities to help combat a growing epidemic of painkiller abuse. Pharmacies dispensed enough painkillers last year to keep every American adult medicated around the clock for a month, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated two million Americans are addicted to the prescription opioids. Of that number, 800,000 are currently receiving treatment, Titan said.
Methadone, another drug used to treat addiction, now causes 30% of prescription painkiller deaths, putting it second behind painkilling drugs containing oxycodone, according to the CDC.
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