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    Nothing to Fear but Pain Itself

    Are You Opio-Phobic?

    How It's Abused continued...

    The drug's special formulation allows for an immediate release into the bloodstream followed by "12 hours of slow release, so each pill lasts for 12 hours," says Carducci.

    Abusers of the drug discovered that if extended-release OxyContin pills were ground up and snorted or injected, the user could, in effect, get the entire 12 hours' worth of drug at one time, resulting in a much more intense high. Such use has been blamed for around 100 deaths nationwide and prompted the FDA last month to strengthen warnings on the drug's label, likening it to morphine. The agency also mailed letters to doctors, pharmacists, and other healthcare providers alerting them of its potential for abuse.

    And just last week, manufacturer Purdue Pharma announced its plans to reformulate the drug in an effort to discourage such abuse. The new form of OxyContin -- available in three to five years -- will come mixed with tiny beads of naltrexone, a drug that counteracts the effects of narcotics and is used to treat heroin addiction. The naltrexone is designed to be inactive as long as the pill is intact -- crush it, however, and the high-busting naltrexone is released.

    Media Overkill?

    While the torrent of news stories about OxyContin abuse has certainly raised public awareness of this deadly new drug trend, it's also fanned the flames of opio-phobia, say critics.

    As the point man in implementing new federally mandated pain-control measures at Johns Hopkins, Carducci says he deals daily with the results of painkiller paranoia.

    "I am implementing this plan in which all patients are asked if they have pain, and then a pain care plan is started," he says. "Now it makes that job even harder because people are afraid to take drugs for pain."

    New Drug, Old Fears

    Many pain experts are concerned that scary headlines are making opio-phobia worse, says Daniel Bennett, MD, a Denver-based pain management specialist. Bennett, co-founder of the National Pain Foundation, recently joined other pain specialists for an international symposium on the problem of irrational fear of opioid drugs.

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