As the modern drug addiction epidemic has continued to escalate over the past two decades, many potential methods and innovations have been introduced in order to address the issue. One such method for addressing prescription pharmaceutical abuse, particularly regarding opioid painkillers, are the use of so-called “abuse deterrent” drugs. These are drugs that are specially altered in some way to make them harder for an addict to abuse. These include formulations of pills that are harder to crush so that they cannot be snorted, or pills that won’t dissolve in water so they are harder to inject. One recent innovation involves adding a special blue dye to Oxycodone.
How can adding a blue dye to Oxycodone make it less susceptible to abuse? The theory behind it is that the blue dye will identify and mark individuals that are using the drug. This new version of Oxycodone is using the working title of Rexista. A blue dye is released if the addict attempts to abuse the drug by crushing, snorting or chewing it. The dye would create a blue stain on the individual’s mouth or nose, which would serve the purpose of alerting family member, friends, or medical professionals that the drug is being abused. Simultaneously, it’s hoped that the dye will act as a deterrent for abusing it. It’s an interesting idea, but for better or worse, the drug was rejected by the Food and Drug Administration by a vote of 22 to 1.
Flaws in the Idea
Several flaws in the blue dye idea led to it being shot down by experts. First of all, there were certain safety concerns associated with the dye. Furthermore, experts did not believe that the dye would serve as an effective deterrent, and believed that more research was required to determine its efficacy. Also, for addicts that would liquefy and inject the pill, the blue dye would not do anything.
Some experts actually believed that the blue dye might actually encourage addicts to abuse it, in that it would create some kind of status symbol or fad. Melinda Campopiana, MD, a senior medical adviser for the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said that “I can see Smurf parties and blue lollipops suddenly becoming very popular.”
While there is something comical about the idea of a “Smurf Party,” the opioid addiction epidemic is no laughing matter. In all likelihood, the blue dye idea will never make it to the pharmacy shelves. It just does not seem to be that effective of an idea, and it does absolutely nothing to address the main problem, which is overprescription.
Addressing the Issue
The solution to opioid painkiller addiction is not going to come from a blue dye, or likely from any kind of abuse deterrent drugs. The real answer lies in changing our overall approach to pain management. Doctors need to dramatically reduce their painkiller prescription rates, and advocate for holistic and alternative approaches to pain management that do not require dangerous and addictive drugs. Greater education is needed to teach people about the real risks involved with prescription opioids. Quality rehabilitation is needed to help those who have already become addicted.