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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has a prescription drug abuse problem. About 550 people die from overdoses of pain medications each year.

It’s a big problem that keeps getting worse, but pharmaceutical companies are changing the way certain medicines are made in hopes that it will keep people from abusing.

“It's an epidemic. It's a crisis,” said Dr. Lynn Webster, a pain management specialist in Utah.

The number of Utah deaths from prescription drug abuse has jumped more than 30 percent in the past three years. And now, drug makers are taking steps to reverse the trend.

Webster travels the country talking about the latest breakthroughs. One is called Abuse-Deterrent Formulation medications. Basically, the pills are encased in such a way to make them almost indestructible.

“It becomes a stone basically," Webster said. "You can't break it down, and you can't break the barrier very easily."

Statistics show that more than half of those who abuse pain meds tamper with them, that is, crush or turn them into a liquid. That’s very dangerous in the case of extended release drugs.

Abuse Deterrent Formulation (ADF) Technology Morphine Talking Points
  • Prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States and a top public health concern. Prescription drug related deaths now outnumber those from heroin and cocaine combined, and exceed motor vehicle-related deaths in 29 states.
  • Opioid painkillers – such as morphine – are responsible for three-fourths of all prescription drug overdose deaths and caused more than 16,600 deaths in the United States in 2010.
  • In 2013, Utah ranked eighth out of all 50 states in the number of prescription drugs overdose deaths, with the number of pill-related deaths increasing over 400% in the last decade.
  • By altering the prescribed formulation of prescription drugs, many abusers seek to create what is known as the "dump" effect, or an acceleration associated with a rapid "high." Abuse Deterrent Formulation (ADF) Technology Morphine has been uniquely formulated so it cannot easily be crushed or solubilized so abusers will be unable to inject or snort it.
  • Making Abuse Deterrent Formulation (ADF) Technology Morphine available and accessible to Utahns not only helps those who are suffering from prescription drug abuse and addiction, it is helping to prevent new users from developing dependency and addiction.

“The extended-release formulations have more milligrams of an opiate because it's supposed to last for a longer period of time," Webster said. "And for some people who are trying to get high off of it, they'll take that capsule or that pill, and they'll crush it and then they'll take either orally, so they get it all at once, or they'll snort it.”

Webster said abusers of pain medicines will also dilute the pills into a liquid, to get an immediate “high” effect.

“When you do that, what you're getting is a large load, or large amount of drug immediately, and it's not intended to do that and it can be lethal; just one pill,” he said.

ADF has been around for several years, and more and more pharmaceutical manufacturers are starting to produce medicines this way.

In a demonstration in his office, Webster used various items to try to crush some ADF pills. After pounding or grinding, the pills remained virtually intact. Webster said even if someone is able to turn the pills into a powder and ingest them, there’s yet another deterrent that kicks in.

“If it's crushed and that antidote is released, then it neutralizes the effect of the opioid," he said. "And if you've been abusing opioids for a while, it'll produce terrible withdrawal.”

As for the future of this technology, and its use in other medications, Webster said cost will certainly be a factor, and insurance companies will have to get fully on board.

“Then I think probably all of the drugs that have an extended-release capability, and are rewarding — they produce a high — will probably have some sort of ADF component to it, “ he said.

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Keith McCord

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