Anthony DiTullio would pop a painkiller in his mouth but not just swallow it, as intended. He would chew it for 30 minutes, grinding through its protective coating and waxy unpleasantness, because the only pain he was treating was addiction.
The pill was OxyContin, a painkiller that its manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, says deters abuse by being difficult to chew or liquefy into forms that give addicts stronger highs, orally or through injection. Since adding these features to its original and widely abused OxyContin in 2010, the company has likened the pill to a virtual seatbelt to restrain the nation's epidemic of prescription drug abuse.
But as thousands of addicts still find ways to abuse OxyContin and similar painkillers, called abuse-deterrent formulations, some experts caution that the protections are misunderstood and could mislead both users and prescribers into thinking that the underlying medications are less addictive.
Because abuse-deterrent formulations are relatively new, preliminary data on their public-health implications is limited. Several studies, somesponsored by Purdue, have found that abuse of OxyContin specifically has decreased after its protections were added. Other reports confirmed those findings but also found that many abusers simply moved on to other opioids, as well as heroin, leaving the overall effect on drug abuse open for debate.