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Advocates say the need to curb the abuse of prescription (Rx) opiates is more urgent than ever, due to a growing epidemic of Rx overdoses from pain medication in Massachusetts and across the country, according The Boston Globe.

The abuse of prescription painkillers is heavily linked to heroin abuse and the pharmaceutical industry has developed pills that are strongly resistant to being crushed, and are therefore difficult for addicts to abuse. But industry battles over patents, concerns over waning profit margins and federal bureaucracy have kept such abuse-resistant pills from being widely available in the market.

Currently the federal Food and Drug Administration allows only one painkiller – an expensive reformulation of the brand-name OxyContin – to be marketed as abuse-resistant. Meanwhile, other opiate medications that are widely prescribed, and well-known to abusers, are still easily pounded into powder form and can be snorted or dissolved for injection.

Detective Sergeant Charles Peterson of the Yarmouth Police Department, a 20-year veteran of narcotics enforcement, is among the supporters of proposals in Congress to require that drug companies market only abuse-resistant versions of oxycodone and other prescription opiate pain-relief pills.

“Do we look at public safety, or do we look at profit?” said Peterson. He added that any opiate addiction, “could have been prevented through either regulation of the pharmaceutical industry or restructuring of the opiate-based drugs themselves. They’re not going to go anywhere that would affect their bottom line unless they get pushed that way.”

A recent report from the DEA called prescription drug abuse one of the nation’s fastest-growing drug problems.

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