Safer pills, higher sales?
A federally-backed push to make prescription painkillers harder to abuse could deliver a windfall to a handful of drugmakers in the nearly $10 billion market for the medications.
Fatal overdoses linked to painkillers have been climbing for more than 15 years, hitting an all-time high of nearly 15,000 in 2014, according to the latest federal figures. Part of the government’s response is to encourage development of drugs that are harder to manipulate. For example, Purdue Pharmaceuticals’ blockbuster OxyContin has been reformulated to be harder to crush and dissolve for snorting or injecting. But these so-called abuse-deterrent drugs represent just a fraction of the U.S. market. Drugs with FDA-approved anti-abuse features made up just 2 percent of the 248 million opioid prescriptions written last year. That could soon change, according to Janney analyst Ken Trbovich. He says the FDA could remove some older opioids from the market in favor of the newer — and pricier — formulations. Removing generic extended-release morphine, for example, would create a $2.5 billion opportunity for drugmakers, he writes. Pfizer’s Embeda and Inspirion Delivery Sciences’ Morphabond are both harder-to-abuse morphine medications.