Sales of OxyContin and other popular painkillers in the U.S. have declined in the past year, according to pharmaceutical sales data released by a clinical drug website. But it’s not clear if the drop in sales is an early indication that the nation’s epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse has peaked.
Drugs.com released sales data for the first quarter of 2012 for the top 100 prescribed drugs in the U.S. While sales of statins, blood thinners and asthma medications continue to grow, there was a year-to-year decline in sales volume for some opioid painkillers.
Sales of OxyContin fell by 9.5%, although the drug known as “hillbilly heroin” remains a big money maker for Purdue Pharma, generating sales of over $662 million in the first quarter.
“I don’t think you can look at this and say that there’s a reduction in opioid consumption in the United States,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-founder of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, which lobbies against opioid abuse and overprescribing. “If this was real, if we had really peaked and we are now seeing a decline it would be very, very good news. I just don’t know if we can say that on the basis of that data.”
“You have millions of Americans who have become addicted. They have become addicted through recreational use and they’ve become addicted through pain treatment. So you now have a huge market of people who are not going to stop using,” Kolodny explained. “That’s why I’m not confident we’re going to see a decline anytime soon. I’d be thrilled if we did.”
Purdue Pharma has reformulated OxyContin to make it harder to inhale or inject, and Kolodny believes OxyContin abusers have shifted to other painkillers, such as Opana, to get high.
“I think the reformulation of OxyContin has hurt sales because it has less value on the street and is less desirable,” Kolodny told American News Report.
One opioid drug did show a sales increase in the past year. Sales of Suboxone, a combination of naloxone and the opioid buprenorphine, rose by 12.1%
‘That’s the easiest thing to explain. Suboxone is a treatment for opioid addiction and we have an epidemic of addiction to opioid painkillers. So I would predict that would keep going up,” Kolodny said.
In the past year, several states have cracked down on pill mills and restricted sales of opioids, making them difficult to obtain even for patients in pain with legitimate prescriptions. Insurers are also taking steps to restrict access. A recent study by the California Workers Compensation Institute found that the prescribing of Schedule II opioid painkillers to injured California workers fell last year to its lowest level since 2007.