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March 15. 2014 9:13PM

NH's representatives in Congress join opposition to painkiller Zohydro

New Hampshire's two U.S. representatives have added their voices to a growing chorus asking the federal Food and Drug Administration to reconsider its approval of a powerful new painkiller.

In a March 11 letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Anne Kuster expressed concern about Zohydro ER, a time-release form of hydrocodone that is about to hit the market.

As previously reported in the New Hampshire Sunday News, law enforcement and medical experts here are worried the new drug will amplify an epidemic of opioid addiction exploding in New Hampshire and the nation.

"As Northern New England faces one of the worst public health threats of our time, we urge you to use your authority to ensure that this highly abusable form of Zohydro does not further complicate the crisis that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies as a 'growing epidemic,'" the representatives' letter said.

In December, New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph Foster joined with his counterparts from 28 other states in sending a letter urging the FDA's Hamburg to reconsider its approval of Zohydro ER.

Despite an 11-2 vote by its own advisory panel a year ago against approving the drug because of its potential for addiction and abuse, the FDA approved Zohydro ER last fall.

In their letter to the FDA commissioner, Shea-Porter and Kuster cited a recent report by the New Hampshire's Department of Health and Human Services that linked an epidemic of heroin use here and in other states to addiction to prescription opioids.

They noted that unlike similar drugs, Zohydro ER is not tamper-resistant, meaning potential abusers can crush the pills and snort or inject the drug to get the maximum high.

In related developments last week:

. A Zogenix competitor, Purdue Pharma, announced plans to seek FDA approval for its own extended-release formula of hydrocodone that will be tamper-resistant. The company makes OxyContin.

. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., introduced legislation, the "Act to Ban Zohydro," that would withdraw approval of the drug and ban the FDA from approving similar medications without abuse-deterrent features. A similar bill was introduced in the House by Reps. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., and Hal Rogers, R-Ky. Shea-Porter signed on as a cosponsor.

. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., questioned top officials at the Homeland Security and Defense departments in separate hearings about their efforts to curb illegal drug trafficking.

A former attorney general, Ayotte noted a "dramatic increase" in heroin deaths in New Hampshire. And she urged "better coordination" among agencies that combat drug-trafficking networks.


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