Health officials in Indiana's Scott County--the epicenter of Indiana's HIV outbreak--aren’t confident a recent move by the FDA to pull a powerful painkiller from market will have an effect on addiction in the historically drug-ravaged county.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is asking the makers of Opana—a prescription painkiller—be removed from shelves due to dangers of drug abuse.
Opana is linked to Indiana’s—and especially Scott County’s—2015 HIV outbreak.
But even if the company does agree to pull Opana, Scott County’s public health nurse Brittany Combs says she doesn’t expect it to have an impact on her community.
“They’re not just going to quit using because Opana’s taken off the market,” Combs says. “They’re just going to switch to something else.”
She says the focus needs to be on increasing addiction and mental health treatment, as well as providing stable housing for those in recovery.
“We pretty much tell them right now you cannot come back to this area if you want to quit and stay quit because there’s too many triggers and it’s not a safe place for you as an addict to come back to,” Combs says.
Deputy Director for Regulatory Programs at the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Dr. Douglas Throckmorton says the FDA’s request is just one part of the equation when it comes to addressing the nation’s opioid epidemic.
“There are scientific, social, legal issues that make it very challenging to find one way to address opioid abuse,” he says.
In addition to the HIV outbreak, the FDA says abuse of the drug has been linked to cases of a serious blood disorder called thrombotic microangiopathy.
If the company doesn’t voluntarily remove Opana ER from the market, the FDA will begin the process to formally require its removal.
Opana’s manufacturer—Irish company Endo pharmaceuticals—responded with a new Opana formula five years ago after discovering addicts were crushing the pills into powder and shorting them.
Although the new coating made pills resistant to crushing, drug abusers began to cook and inject the medication intravenously, a move that’s in part responsible for spread of HIV and other blood-borne diseases.