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Your Life, Your Health: New drug comes with serious risks

Updated: Wednesday, March 12 2014, 11:17 PM EDT
A new pill hitting the market five to ten times more powerful than Vicodin is causing concern among law makers and pharmacists. It is called Zohydro and was approved by the FDA in October of 2013 even though its own advisory committee voted it down. Senator Chuck Schumer recently spoke of the drug's release at a press conference. He is asking for the Health and Human Services Secretary to pull it from the market.

Zohydro is designed to treat severe chronic pain and essentially is pure hydrocodone that comes in extended release tablets. It is the first medication for chronic pain that offers those two elements. There's no Tylenol in Zohydro so it is an option for people who can't take acetaminophen.

CBS6 spoke with a local pharmacist, George Fredricks, Manager of Pharmacy Operations at St. Peter's Health Partners about his thoughts on Zohydro's release. He says he's concerned with how easy this super-strong painkiller is to abuse and that it'll only contribute to America's heroin epidemic. He sees it as very attractive to street users.

"Even a low dose can kill a child." Fredericks says. "It can be altered, meaning crushed. So, you get the amount of 12 hours of medication in the span of half an hour. If you drink that with alcohol, you get that in 15 minutes."

For a person who is naïve to this type of medication (opiates) ingestion can lead to respiratory failure and death.

Fredericks says Zohyrdo would be safer if the pills weren't crushable, or if the medication was combined with Narcan. Used in emergency rooms and becoming more available in ambulances, Narcan or Nalxone is used to counteract the effects of an opiate. It is usually given to people experiencing the effects of heroin. 

"It is called a reversal drug." Fredericks says. "So if you made it not crushable and put a reversal in there, it would be a much safer drug."

Zohydro's manufacturer, Zogenix says it has an advisory panel monitoring the release of the drug.
Your Life, Your Health: New drug comes with serious risks

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