The Food and Drug Administration’s approval in the fall of a controversial new painkiller, Zohydro, added more fuel to a long-running fight over how to treat people with chronic pain while not exacerbating the nation’s prescription drug epidemic. The latest front in that fight is Massachusetts, where Gov. Deval Patrick is seeking to ban sales of Zohydro, saying it would worsen a public health emergency.
Overdose deaths related to the powerful, addictive class of medications known as opioids have more than tripled in the past two decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accounting for nearly 16,000 deaths in 2009. In addition, abuse and misuse of prescription painkillers accounts for hundreds of thousands of emergency room visits each year and billions of dollars in health-care costs.
Despite that human toll, opioids remain among the most-prescribed drugs in the country, in part because they are particularly effective at blocking the brain’s sensation of pain. Here are some of the most common versions:
Hydrocodone: One of the most commonly prescribed opioid medications, it is the main ingredient in drugs such as Vicodin and Lortab. It comes in various forms, including capsules and tablets, and typically is combined with non-opioid painkillers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Zohydro, a new formulation approved by the FDA in the fall, is the first pure hydrocodone product to hit the market.
Oxycodone: Another widely prescribed narcotic painkiller, commonly found in time-released tablets meant to extend its effectiveness. Often combined with aspirin or acetaminophen, brand name versions include OxyContin and Percocet.
Morphine: One of the most effective opioid drugs, but also one of the most powerful. It is typically found in hospitals or other clinical settings and given through injection to treat moderate to severe pain. Also can be given in liquid or tablet form.
Not nearly as powerful as opioids, over-the-counter painkillers are among the most widely used in America. They also can cause health problems if overused, such as stomach pain, nausea and even ulcers, but typically are considered far less addictive and potentially dangerous than opioids. Among the most common are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs):
Aspirin: Brand names include Bayer and Excedrin.
Ibuprofen: Brand names include Advil and Motrin.
Naproxen: Brand names include Aleve.