During the last 2 decades, there has been a dramatic increase in the use of strong opioids for chronic non-cancer pain. This increase has been accompanied by a steep increase in abuse, misuse, and both fatal and non-fatal overdoses involving prescription opioids. The situation is already alarming in the US. Prescription opioid-related harm is a complex, multifactorial issue that requires a multifaceted solution. In this respect, formulations of opioid analgesics designed to resist or deter abuse may be a useful component of a comprehensive opioid risk minimization programme. Such formulations have or are being developed. Abuse-resistant opioids include those that use some kind of physical barrier to prevent tampering with the formulation. Abuse-deterrent opioids are not necessarily resistant to tampering, but contain substances that are designed to make the formulation less attractive to abusers. This article focuses on two products intended to deter abuse that were reviewed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The first (Embeda®) consists of extended-release morphine with sequestered naltrexone, an opioid antagonist that is released if the tablet is compromised by chewing or crushing. Although Embeda® exhibited abusedeterrent features, its label warns that it can be abused in a manner similar to other opioid agonists. Furthermore, tampering with Embeda® will result in the release of naltrexone, which may precipitate withdrawal in opioidtolerant individuals. In March 2011, all dosage forms of Embeda® were recalled because the product failed to meet routine stability standards, and its return date to the market is currently unknown. The second product (Acurox®) was intended to be both tamper resistant and abuse deterrent. It consisted of an immediate-release oxycodone tablet with subtherapeutic niacin as an aversive agent and used a gel-forming ingredient designed to inhibit inhalation and prevent extraction of the drug for injection. The new drug application for Acurox® was rejected in 2010 by the FDA because of concerns about the potential abuse-deterrent benefits of niacin.
While acknowledging that no one formulation can be expected to deter all types of opioid-abusive behaviours and no product is likely to be abuse proof in the hands of clear and determined abusers, the reductions in abuse these new products would provide may be an incremental step towards safer prescription opioids.