A powerful new painkiller is bringing strong opposition from parents and state officials over concern it could lead to a new opiate addiction, making the battle even harder.
"If it's crushed, it can be snorted, it can be liquefied, it can be injected and you get the full-flown ten Vicodins in one shot from one Zohydro," pain management Dr. Gregory Smith said at a rally in front of the Orange County Food and Drug Administration offices on Thursday.
Smith appeared at the rally in support of parents who've lost children to opiates. He and others are worried that Zohydro ER, made by San Diego-based Zogenix, is the first painkiller to be made from pure hydrocodone and can be 10 times more powerful than other opiate drugs in its class.
Zogenix said Zohydro is no more potent than other hydrocodone medications and is taking steps to ensure doctors and patients understand its risks. The company said it has set up a board of experts to guard against abuse of the drug.
But at least two states are not convinced the drug is safe.
On Thursday, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin announced an emergency order that would make it harder for doctors to prescribe a new class of drugs that includes Zohydro. Last week, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick banned Zohydro, the first time the state has ever banned a drug.
Late last year, 28 attorneys general urged the FDA to revoke the drug's approval or require the manufacturer to reformulate the drug to make it more difficult to abuse.
At the demonstration in Orange County, parent Alice Whynaught described her son Joey's journey into addiction that eventually led to a deadly overdose with the opiate Oxycontin.
"He did seven rehabs, he did two or three hospitalizations," Whynaught said.
Parents like Carol Roan are demanding the FDA make Zogenix reformulate the drug so it can't be so easily abused.
"It's too late for me, but it's not too late for other parents," Roan said.
The FDA said it has taken steps for over a decade to prevent abuse, such as warning labels, strengthening surveillance efforts and improving appropriate prescribing by doctors.
But many parents and public health experts remain unconvinced.
"There's no safety coating on it, it's not crush proof, if a child picks it up off the floor as I heard the doctor say earlier, that child's life will end," said Vernon Porter, whose daughter died from a prescription drug overdose. "And of course, if it gets out into the hands of addicts, they can crush it, smoke it, inject it - many different ways of doing it, and then we're gonna have many, many more overdose deaths."