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Hospitals in Vt., N.H. reject powerful painkiller Zohydro

Several hospitals that serve Vermont and New Hampshire will not be stocking the powerful new painkiller that officials fear could be easily abused.

Fletcher Allen Health Care, Rutland Regional Medical Center and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center all confirmed Friday that they will not be stocking the drug Zohydro, which hit the markets last month.

Zohydro belongs to a family of medicines known as opioids. Others include morphine, heroin and oxycodone, the painkiller in OxyContin. Its painkilling power comes from the narcotic hydrocodone. Other medications, such as Vicodin, contain the same narcotic but also include acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol.

Vermont officials and officials across the nation fear abuse of the drug could worsen an already acute drug problem because it is not tamper-resistant and contains up to five times more hydrocodone than previously available in other pills.

“We all just think the drug is too dangerous to use,” said Dr. Gilbert Fanciullo, director of Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Pain Management Center. “I’m actually quite surprised that the FDA hasn’t reversed their decision already.”

The Food and Drug Administration said Zohydro meets its standards and provides an important option for patients with chronic pain. It said abuse-deterring formulations of Zohydro are in the early stages of development.

But some health authorities say the version on the market now can be crushed and then snorted or injected for a rapid, powerful high that can prove lethal.

San Diego-based Zogenix, which makes Zohydro, said that it has set up a board of experts to guard against abuse and that its sales representatives are not being paid based on volume, but rather on their efforts to ensure prescribers, pharmacists and patients understand the medication’s risks and benefits.

On Thursday, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin announced an emergency order that would make it harder for physicians to prescribe a new class of drugs that includes Zohydro.

Fanciullo, who works with patients who have pain, including those who require long-term pain management, said he did not believe the drug would benefit any of the patients who come through his center. Fanciullo said that beyond the threat of overdose, the drug could also lead people to heroin.

Dr. Christopher Meriam, co-founder of Green Mountain Orthopaedic Surgery in Berlin, regularly treats patients for short-term pain from injury, arthritis or surgery. Adequate pain medications for the patients he treats already exist, he said.

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