Fort Wayne, Indiana, a medium-sized city of 200,000, has experienced more than a dozen pharmacy robberies since the beginning of 2012. In almost every case, the robbers were after a powerful prescription painkiller named Opana. Less well-known than OxyContin, Opana is the brand name for oxymorphone. Like OxyContin, Opana is an opiate medication that carries a high risk of abuse, dependency and overdose. Unlike OxyContin, Opana is still available in an extended-release formula that appeals to abusers who are seeking a more intense high.
According to drug enforcement experts, the rising popularity of Opana can be attributed to a change made to OxyContin that makes pills harder to crush for snorting or dissolve for injecting. Individuals who are addicted to prescription drugs have a tendency to adapt according the drug availability and many are now turning to Opana to feed their addiction. States that are known for prescription drug abuse, including Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York as well as Indiana, are seeing a growth in Opana abuse. Last year in Kentucky, nearly a quarter of all drug overdose victims had traces of oxymorphone in their blood.
Opana ER, an extended-release version of oxymorphone, was introduced by Endo Pharmaceuticals in 2006. As abuse of Opana spread, Endo developed a crush-resistant version. The new formulation was approved by the FDA last year. The old formula is slated to be discontinued, but it’s unknown how much is still available in pharmacies and on the black market. Some pharmacists have already reported receiving phone callers from desperate addicts looking for the old Opana formulation.
In Indiana and across the U.S., prescription drug abuse became a serious problem about a decade ago. Hydrocodone, which is sold under the brand names Vicodin and Lortab, was the first painkiller to be widely abused. Next came oxycodone, the active ingredient in OxyContin. Now a spate of pharmacy robberies and drug overdoses indicate that Opana is replacing OxyContin as the most sought after painkiller among addicts.
The reformulation of Opana means that some addicts will risk overdose by taking larger quantities of the pills. As seen with OxyContin, many who use intravenous injection as their preferred form of drug deliver will find another prescription drug to abuse or will turn to heroin, a growing trend among former OxyContin abusers.
As the abuse of prescription drugs rises, so do the number of destroyed lives. The Los Angeles Times reports that the death toll from drug overdoses has doubled in the past ten years, surpassing the number of traffic fatalities in 2011. Prescription drugs are currently the cause of more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.