One of the huge selling points of OxyContin is that it boasts of keeping users free of pain for 12 hours, thus allowing them to sleep through the night. But an investigation by the Los Angeles Times finds that the claim doesn't hold true for many patients, and when the drug wears off hours early, they "experience excruciating symptoms of withdrawal, including an intense craving for the drug." It is, as one patient puts it, "a description of hell." Solution? Take another pill, or one with a higher dose, a cycle that can lead to dependency. "The problem," write Harriet Ryan, Lisa Girion, and Scott Glover, "offers new insight into why so many people have become addicted to OxyContin, one of the most abused pharmaceuticals in U.S. history." Drugmaker Purdue Pharma has long been aware of the problem, but has pushed back hard against complaints because the drug's popularity and revenue "hinge on its 12-hour duration," says the Times.
The company urges doctors to prescribe higher doses, not tell patients to take the drug more frequently. Anything shorter than 12 hours “needs to be nipped in the bud. NOW!!” one sales rep manager wrote to her staff. In response to the story, the company held firm: “Scientific evidence amassed over more than 20 years, including more than a dozen controlled clinical studies, supports FDA’s approval of 12-hour dosing for OxyContin,” says its chief medical officer. But one neuroscientist cautions that pushing users into withdrawal episodes increases the risk of abuse. “You are messing with those areas of the brain that are involved in addiction, and you are going to get the person dependent on it." The investigation also finds that more than half of OxyContin users are taking doses deemed too high by public health officials. Click to read the full story. (Read more OxyContin stories.)