Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of the addictive opioid OxyContin®, was recently granted a patent for a treatment option to those who are addicted to opioids, “Buprenorphine-Wafer for Drug Substitution Therapy”.

OxyContin was approved by the FDA in 1995 and was first introduced by Purdue Pharma shortly thereafter. The drug was prescribed to patients as a pain reliever. Its recommended dosing was every 12 hours instead of other pain medications that recommended dosing every 4-6 hours. The FDA believed the drug would decrease abuse as it was absorbed slower and did not provide an immediate euphoric feeling like other prescribed opioids. Unfortunately, that was not the case, and America now faces an opioid addiction epidemic, with OxyContin as one of the leading opioids abused. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)[1] more than 115 people die from overdosing on opioids every day creating an “economic burden” of $78.5 billion a year[2].

In an effort to help with the opioid epidemic Purdue Pharma developed a treatment option for those addicted to opioids. Dr. Richard Sackler, past president and current board member of Purdue Pharma, is one of the inventors listed on the patent. The patent states:

While opioids have always been known to be useful in pain treatment, they also display an addictive potential in view of their euphorigenic activity. Thus, if opioids are taken by healthy human subjects with a drug seeking behaviour they may lead to psychological as well as physical dependence…

It is an object of the present invention to provide an oral pharmaceutical dosage form of the active agent buprenorphine that is less prone to diversion and/or abuse in drug substitution therapy. It is another object of the present invention to provide an oral dosage form of the active agent buprenorphine that can be used for drug substitution therapy and/or pain treatment.

Buprenorphine is already approved by the FDA and is the latest alternative to methadone. It is a milder opiate that can help reduce drug cravings addicts have. It comes in the form of a pill, wafer, or dissolvable strip that is administered sublingually. Methadone is a synthetic opiate with long-acting effects that target the same receptors in the brain as heroin. It is designed to suppress the withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid addiction. Unfortunately, many use methadone as another source of drug use as its effects mimic those of opioid use when taken improperly.

Many have criticized Purdue Pharma for this new treatment as they created and manufacture OxyContin. Some say they are profiting off of a problem they have created.

Purdue has declined to comment on the patent. In an attempt to increase awareness of the addiction problem the company has, however, worked with the National Sheriff’s Association to train and supply law enforcement with Narcan (naloxone), the “overdose reversal” medication. They are working with other drug manufacturers to make an over-the-counter and nasal spray version of Narcan, and have also supported efforts to provide safer prescription methods.

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[1] https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis

[2] Florence CS, Zhou C, Lou F, Xu L. The Economic Burden of Prescription Opioid Overdose, Abuse, and Dependence in the United States, 2013. Med Care. 2016;54(10):901-906. doi:10.1097/MLR.0000000000000.625