abuse-deterrent-oxycontinOver the last five years, there has been a call for prescription drug companies to re-formulate their opioid narcotics to make them abuse resistant. Commonly prescribed prescription narcotics, such as OxyContin (oxycodone), were originally easy to abuse by crushing the pills for snorting or injection. This practice among abusers was one of the leading causes for the subsequent heroin scourge that resulted from tighter restrictions on prescription narcotic prescribing practices, as well as drug re-formulations.

While, developing prescription drugs that are harder to abuse had some effect on curbing the problem, new research suggests that as much as 25 percent of drug abusers who sought treatment for opioid abuse, still abused OxyContin despite package labeling that warned of abuse-deterrent properties, Science Daily reports. This lead researchers to believe that abuse-deterrent re-formulations were only successful to a point.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis surveyed 11,000 drug users at 150 drug-treatment facilities across the United States, according to the article.

“We found that the abuse-deterrent formulation was useful as a first line of defense,” said senior investigator Theodore J. Cicero, PhD, a professor of neuropharmacology in psychiatry. “OxyContin abuse in people seeking treatment declined, but that decline slowed after a while. And during that same time period, heroin use increased dramatically.”

The findings go to show that, especially for drug addicts, where there is a will – there is always a way. Abuse-deterrent properties do not come with a 100 percent guarantee; many found ways to circumvent the deterrents, those who were unable to do so swallowed the pills or switched to heroin.

“Some people found ways to get around the abuse-deterrent formulation so that they could snort or inject it, and others simply swallowed the pills,” said Cicero. “But many people switched to heroin, and that’s a major concern.”

“A few years ago when we did interviews with people in treatment, many would tell us that although they were addicts, at least they weren’t using heroin,” he added. “But now, many tell us that a prescription opioid might run $20 to $30 per tablet while heroin might only cost about $10.”

The study was published in JAMA Psychiatry.