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Purdue Pharma Aims to Take High out of Popular Painkiller OxyContin

Aired August 8, 2001 - 12:17   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We have some breaking news on one of the most popular painkillers in United States.

Let's go to our Eileen O'Connor, in Washington, D.C.

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, Purdue Pharma say that they are working on a patent that they expect to apply for, on a new formulation of the popular painkiller OxyContin. It would be a different drug, a new formulation that they say they would hope would be abuse resistant.

They are not saying for sure that this is going to be a drug that could take the place of the opiate-based OxyContin, but they say it would not give the same sort of high, a high that has been touted by drug addicts and used and is becoming a very addictive high for many people. This new drug, they are hoping, will not be able to be crushed and snorted, as OxyContin has been abused by those addicted to drugs.

And they also say that they're not sure that this would be a replacement drug, though, because they say that they still have to go through clinical trials. They're applying for the patent, but then they have to do a safety trial through the FDA and then they have to do what are called the efficacy trials, which show how effective the drug would be. That's why, they say, it's too early to tell if it could replace OxyContin. But the idea behind this new drug would be abuse resistant and, hopefully, a replacement for that drug that is being abused by a small percentage of people.

The drug company, though, does not indicate that hey will pull OxyContin off the shelves in the meantime. They say that it is helping thousands of people resuming normal lives, who are suffering some debilitating illnesses because of the severe pain -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Eileen, thank you. We're going to have you stand by with more news on that.

First, we want to bring in our medical consultant Dr. Sanjay Gupta, to tell us more about this drug.

First of all, why is it so addictive? What's the problem with it as it now is formulated? There are two things about this medication. One is that it's a derivative of very strong pain medications. So people who have been less responsive to some of the less strong pain medications will often get bumped up to OxyContin to try to control their pain.

The other thing that Eileen was referring to a little bit is that it has a time-release mechanism to it. It's supposed to be a medication that lasts 12 hours. In any case, the medication, if it is chewed and ground up and either ingested orally or snorted or anything -- even injected into your blood -- can give you an instantaneous high, and people have described it as a heroin-like high, which we know is very addictive.

KAGAN: Why is it so effective? As Eileen said, the company says they don't want to pull it off the market, because it's helping thousands, perhaps millions, of people out there.

GUPTA: Exactly. It's a powerful pain medication, so oftentimes, again, when other medications just aren't working, this will tend to work. The concern is that if you take too much of it at once, however, when you get that strong a pain medication, it can do things like suppress your breathe; you may forget to breathe on your own, which may be the reason that it's linked to deaths, in some cases, around the country.

KAGAN: Why not just take it off of the market?

GUPTA: Right -- that's an excellent point. I think people thought about that a lot around the time that this medication was being linked to these deaths, but it's a very effective pain medication. We do have thousands of patient out there -- I myself have prescribed it, Daryn -- for whom it makes them have a quality of life, makes them able to get around and do things that they otherwise wouldn't be able to do. So it can be an effective pain medication. If it's abused, it can cause the problems that we're hearing about now.

KAGAN: Keeping that in mind, when you do prescribe it, do you talk with your patients and say this could help, but it could hurt as well?

GUPTA: Absolutely. I do that, and I think most doctors that I know are pretty judicious about that. This pain medications -- we received warnings on this around the time that we started hearing about these deaths, about chewing up the time-released coating of the medication, and you get all that 12 hours' worth of medication all at once -- and that could cause all sorts of problems. So I certainly did counsel my patients that this is to be swallowed with water, not to be chewed, and certainly not to be or injected or inhaled or anything like that.

So counseling them on the proper use of the medication certainly is a first step, but unfortunately for some people, it didn't quite work.

KAGAN: Didn't listen to that, and with the abuse, coming to the term "hillbilly heroin."

GUPTA: That's right. It started off in West Virginia and has moved around the county.

KAGAN: More on this story just ahead.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks for joining us and informing us on that.

GUPTA: Thank you.

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