A Northern California biotechnology company said Wednesday it was developing an abuse-resistant version of the pain killer OxyContin, sometimes called “hillbilly heroin” because of its popularity as an illicit drug.
South San Francisco-based Pain Therapeutics said its experimental gel capsule resists the easy tampering that turns the approved pill from a legally prescribed pain killer for long-suffering patients into a potent and sometimes fatal high for drug abusers.
OxyContin was hailed as a breakthrough in the treatment of severe chronic pain when it was introduced in 1996. But the drug has become a problem in recent years after users discovered that crushing the time-release tablets and snorting or injecting the powder yields an immediate, heroin-like high.
“If you can crush Alka Seltzer with your hand you can crush OxyContin,” Pain Therapeutics chief executive Remi Barbier said.
Hundreds of overdose deaths have been attributed to OxyContin abuse and have overshadowed the drug’s legitimate use by cancer patients and others who suffer from chronic pain.