State drug leaders concerned over new painkiller

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) - Kentucky's Office of Drug Control Policy director, Van Ingram, has been in Frankfort since 2004. As a former police chief, he's seen firsthand what painkiller abuse can do.

"We've lost a lot of lives to extended-release opioids. A lot of people overdose with extended-release opioids," Ingram said.

That's why he says he's concerned about a new pill set to launch soon called Zohydro.

"The more important thing that makes it dangerous is that it's an extended release product. It contains a lot of medication that's meant to be delivered slowly over time," Ingram said.

The pill differs from other painkillers in a couple of ways. First, Ingram says it's pure hydrocodone.

"Drugs like Lortab and Vicodin that have other types of pain relievers in them like acetaminophen or aspirin are not as attractive to users to inject or snort because of the other properties in the drug. The hydrocodone is what they want," he said.

Second, it's not abuse-deterrent. Other painkillers can be rendered useless if crushed. Zohydro doesn't have that feature. The FDA's advisory committee voted 11-2 against approving the drug, but the administration did anyway.

"It's hard for me to understand why you put together a panel of experts to give you an opinion and then don't follow their opinion," Ingram said.

Ingram says there is a legitimate need for a painkiller that doesn't contain acetaminophen.

"Acetaminophen can cause liver damage over a long extended period of time and without that, the risk with this drug would be mitigated," Ingram said.

There is an abuse-deterrent version of Zohydro in the works, but Ingram said it's years away.

"The manufacturer says they're working on an abuse-deterrent formulation that they have hope to have to market in three years. People like me in this field would prefer the FDA make them wait until they can put out that abuse deterrent formulation before they start marketing the drug," Ingram said.

The FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg defended the administration's approval of the drug it a hearing today. She said they understand the drug is powerful but it fulfills an important medical niche.

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