New painkiller Zohydro ER comes with big controversy

March 20, 2014 8:40:12 PM PDT
A new painkiller called Zohydro ER hit the market this month. Doctors say it's up to 10 times stronger than vicodin and many experts want it off the market.

"It's just a miracle that I'm sitting here," Beth Beethe said.

Beethe has lived in a fog for 20 years. Isolated, hibernating struggling with an addiction to painkillers following a series of orthopaedic surgeries.

"I have overdosed, yeah. I've stopped breathing twice," she said. "Went from Norco and hydrocodone. Then as it got worse, I was headed for an early death."

"These drugs are very powerful. They can create a dependency in somebody and that's when you can really have a problem," Dr. Matt Feehery said.

Dr. Feehery says painkillers, not illegal drugs, cause three out of four overdoses in this country. And a new one that's more potent, more powerful is just not necessary.

"It's strong enough that it could put you to sleep and you never wake up," Dr. Feehery said.

Zohydro ER is an extended-release formula of straight up hydrocodone. Many experts fear it'll lead to more addictions, overdoses, even deaths.

The FDA advisory council voted 11-2 not to approve Zohydro ER, but some doctors on the FDA panel decided to release it anyway.

In a three-page statement, the drug's maker told us "Zogenix is committed to ensuring the appropriate use of Zohydro ER ... which is reserved for patients for whom other treatments are ineffective or ... inadequate."

Dr. Sprintz treats patients with chronic pain who may be at risk for addiction.

"Many doctors are not as well trained and educated in identifying addiction. And so a lot of times an addict is able to get a prescription," he said.

That is exactly what happened to Beethe. But since starting treatment December 7, she's free of painkillers and remarkably free of pain.

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