Cigna Won’t Pay for OxyContin in 2018

By John Burke, Guest Columnist

A major health insurance company -- Cigna -- announced this week that they it is removing OxyContin from its list of approved medications and replacing it with another extended release oxycodone product.

“Our focus is on helping customers get the most value from their medications — this means obtaining effective pain relief while also guarding against opioid misuse," said Jon Maesner, Cigna's chief pharmacy officer.

OxyContin is the only opioid-based prescription painkiller that Cigna is removing in 2018 as "a preferred option" from its formulary, a list of medications that its health plans will pay for.


On the surface, this declaration might appear to be a great stride toward reducing prescription drug abuse. Cigna is replacing OxyContin with Collegium’s product, Xtampza ER, which is also an abuse deterrent extended release oxycodone product. 

My problem with this announcement is that OxyContin, along with the other abuse deterrent formulations (ADFs), have very little abuse issues. OxyContin certainly did up until its reformulation in August 2010, but that was over 7 years ago! Since then, there is much documentation from a variety of sources that show the diversion of OxyContin has fallen extensively.


Xtampa ER and the other abuse deterrent formulations also have little to no abuse issues since they have been on the market. 

If Cigna wants to change drugs, that’s likely a financial decision and one they should make, but please don’t tout your move as striking a blow for reducing drug diversion.

It will do nothing to reduce drug diversion, since the clear majority of diversion falls into the immediate release opioids, primarily oxycodone and hydrocodone. 

What is even more concerning to me is the vilifying of any drug that hundreds of thousands of legitimate pain patients take to live a semblance of a normal life, especially when that drug does not have a recent history of abuse and diversion. It also tends to make suspect any and all abuse deterrent products, which is deceptive at best. 

One thing the abuse deterrent formulations have done is to help narrow their focus to legitimate pain patients. Those seeking to get “high” moved to immediate release opioids or black market heroin/fentanyl combinations, not the ADF products. That’s why the FDA is now considering requiring companies that produce generic opioids to develop ADF properties for their drugs. 

No matter what Cigna declares, the bottom line is that ADF’s have been successful. They are not an end all to diversion and abuse, but they do help pain patients get easier access to pain medication. I am hoping that is everybody’s ultimate goal. 


John Burke recently retired after nearly 50 years in drug and law enforcement in southwestern Ohio.

John is a former president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators and current president of the International Health Facility Diversion Association.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

FDA to Review All Abuse Deterrent Opioids

By Pat Anson, Editor

A week after asking that Opana ER be taken off the market, the head of the Food and Drug Administration has ordered a review of all opioid painkillers with abuse deterrent formulas to see if they actually help prevent opioid abuse and addiction.

The move is likely to add to speculation that the FDA may seek to prevent the sale of other opioid painkillers.

“We are announcing a public meeting that seeks a discussion on a central question related to opioid medications with abuse-deterrent properties: do we have the right information to determine whether these products are having their intended impact on limiting abuse and helping to curb the epidemic?” FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, said in a statement.

Gottlieb said the FDA would meet with “external thought leaders” on July 10th and 11th to assess abuse deterrent formulas, which usually make medications harder for addicts to crush or liquefy for snorting and injecting. He did not identify who the thought leaders were.

“Opioid formulations with properties designed to deter abuse are not abuse-proof or addiction-proof. These drugs can still be abused, particularly orally, and their use can still lead to new addiction,” Gottlieb said. “Nonetheless, these new formulations may hold promise as one part of a broad effort to reduce the rates of misuse and abuse. One thing is clear: we need better scientific information to understand how to optimize our assessment of abuse deterrent formulations.”

In a surprise move last week, the FDA asked Endo Pharmaceuticals to remove Opana ER from the market, citing concerns that the oxymorphone tablets are being liquefied and injected. It’s the first time the agency has taken steps to stop an opioid painkiller from being sold.

“I am pleased, but not because I think that this one move by itself will have much impact,” Andrew Kolodny, MD, Executive Director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP) told Mother Jones. “I’m hopeful that this signals a change at FDA—and that Opana might be just the first opioid that they’ll consider taking off the market. It’s too soon to tell.”

Opana was reformulated by Endo in 2012 to make it harder to abuse, but addicts quickly discovered they could still inject it. The FDA said Opana was linked to serious outbreaks of HIV, Hepatitis C and a blood clotting disorder spread by infected needles.

Endo has yet to respond to the FDA request. If the company refuses to stop selling Opana, the agency said it would take steps to require its removal from the market by withdrawing approval.

“The request to voluntarily remove the product is one thing, but it comes with a lot of other questions that are unanswered,” Endo CEO Paul Campanelli reportedly said at an industry conference covered by Bloomberg. “We are attempting to communicate with the FDA to find out what they would like us to do.”

Patient advocates say it would be unfair to remove an effective pain medication from the market just because it is being abused by addicts.

“The FDA is following a political agenda, rather than its mandate to protect the public health,” said Janice Reynolds, a retired oncology nurse who suffers from persistent pain. “Depriving those who benefit from the use of Opana ER to stop people from using it illegally is ethically and morally wrong.”

Sales of Opana reached nearly $160 million last year. The painkiller is prescribed about 50,000 times a month.

"This is something that could potentially apply to other drugs in the future, as it may signal a movement by the FDA to start taking products off the market that don't have strong abuse-deterrent properties," industry analyst Scott Lassman told

The FDA put drug makers on notice four years ago that they should speed up the development of abuse deterrent formulas (ADF).  Acting on the FDA's guidance, pharmaceutical companies spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing several new opioid painkillers that are harder to chew, crush, snort or inject.

Were they worth the investment? Not according to a recent study funded by insurers, pharmacy benefit managers and some drug makers.

The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER), a non-profit that recommends which medications should be covered by insurance and at what price, released a report last month that gave ADF opioids a lukewarm grade when it comes to preventing abuse.

“Without stronger real-world evidence that ADFs reduce the risk of abuse and addiction among newly prescribed patients, our judgment is that the evidence can only demonstrate a ‘comparable or better’ net health benefit (C+),” the ICER report states.

The insurance industry has been reluctant to pay for ADF opioids, not because of any lack of effectiveness in preventing abuse, but because of their cost. A branded ADF opioid like OxyContin can cost nearly twice as much as a generic opioid without an abuse deterrent formula.  According to one study, OxyContin was covered by only a third of Medicare Part D plans in 2015. Many insurers also require prior authorization before an OxyContin prescription is filled.  

FDA Wants Opana ER Sales Stopped

By Pat Anson, Editor

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today asked Endo Pharmaceuticals to remove Opana ER from the market, citing concerns about safety risks when the tablets are liquefied and injected. It’s the first time the agency has taken steps to stop an opioid painkiller from being sold -- and oddly it has more to do with preventing HIV and Hepatitis C than it does in preventing opioid abuse.

“We are facing an opioid epidemic – a public health crisis, and we must take all necessary steps to reduce the scope of opioid misuse and abuse,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD. “We will continue to take regulatory steps when we see situations where an opioid product’s risks outweigh its benefits, not only for its intended patient population but also in regard to its potential for misuse and abuse.”

Opana ER is the brand name for Endo’s extended release opioid painkiller oxymorphone. It was first approved by the FDA in 2006 for the management of moderate to severe pain.  In 2012, after numerous reports that it was being abused and sold on the black market, Opana was reformulated by Endo to make it harder for addicts to crush or liquefy.

That same year, over a dozen cases of a serious blood clotting disorder and Hepatitis C in intravenous drug users were linked to the reformulated Opana in Tennessee. But it took another five years for the FDA to act.

In March, an FDA advisory panel voted 18-8 that the benefits of reformulated Opana no longer outweighed its risks. The agency found“a significant shift in the route of abuse” from snorting to injection. Injecting Opana was associated with outbreaks of HIV, Hepatitis C and a blood clotting disorder called thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura. All can be spread intravenously by infected needles.

“The abuse and manipulation of reformulated Opana ER by injection has resulted in a serious disease outbreak. When we determined that the product had dangerous unintended consequences, we made a decision to request its withdrawal from the market,” said Janet Woodcock, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “This action will protect the public from further potential for misuse and abuse of this product.”

The FDA has requested that Endo voluntarily remove Opana from the market. Should the company refuse to do so, the agency intends to take steps to formally require its removal by withdrawing approval.

"Endo is reviewing the request and is evaluating the full range of potential options as we determine the appropriate path forward," the company said in a statement. "Despite the FDA's request to withdraw Opana ER from the market, this request does not indicate uncertainty with the product's safety or efficacy when taken as prescribed. Endo remains confident in the body of evidence established through clinical research demonstrating that Opana ER has a favorable risk-benefit profile when used as intended in appropriate patients."

According to Bloomberg, sales of Opana  reached nearly $160 million last year, about 4 percent of the company’s total revenue.

Are Abuse Deterrent Opioids Working?

By Pat Anson, Editor

In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration put drug makers on notice that they should speed up the development of abuse deterrent formulas for opioid pain medication.

“(The) abuse and misuse of these products have resulted in too many injuries and deaths across the United States,” Douglas Throckmorton, MD, a top FDA official said at the time. “An important step towards the goal of creating safer opioids is the development of products that are specifically formulated to deter abuse.”

Acting on the FDA's guidance, pharmaceutical companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing abuse deterrent formulas (ADFs) that make opioid medications harder for addicts to chew, crush, snort or inject. Several new opioids with ADF formulas have been approved by the FDA and more are still in the pipeline.

Was it worth the investment? Not according to a new study funded by insurers, pharmacy benefit managers and some drug makers.

The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER), a non-profit that recommends which medications should be covered by insurance and at what price, released a Draft Evidence Report  earlier this month that questions the effectiveness of ADF opioids, giving them a middling grade of C+ when it comes to preventing abuse.

“Without stronger real-world evidence that ADFs reduce the risk of abuse and addiction among newly prescribed patients, our judgment is that the evidence can only demonstrate a ‘comparable or better’ net health benefit (C+),” the ICER report states.

ICER also gave a lukewarm review to OxyContin, the painkiller that was reformulated by Purdue Pharma in 2010 after widespread reports that it was being abused and causing addiction.   

“Evidence on the impact of reformulated OxyContin on opioid abuse is mixed. The majority of time series studies found that after the abuse-deterrent formulation of OxyContin was introduced, there was a decline in the rate of OxyContin abuse,” the ICER report states. “However, the rate of abuse of other prescription opioids (ER oxymorphone, ER morphine, IR oxycodone) and heroin abuse may have increased during the same period.

“Furthermore, findings from direct interviews with recreational users showed that reformulated OxyContin may have limited impact on changing overall abuse patterns.”

Purdue objects to ICER’s analysis – citing another study that found reformulated OxyContin prevented 7,200 cases of abuse and $200 million in additional medical costs.

“ICER missed the opportunity to fairly evaluate the impact of these innovative technologies, recognized by the FDA, DEA, NIDA (National Institute of Drug Abuse) and other policy makers as an important component of addressing the opioid crisis,” the company said in a statement.

Purdue and other ADF makers are troubled by the ICER report because it gives cover to insurers who are already reluctant to pay for branded ADF opioids like OxyContin when generic opioids without abuse deterrent formulas are much cheaper.  According to one study, OxyContin was covered by only 33% of Medicare Part D plans in 2015. Many insurers create more hoops for patients and doctors to jump through by requiring that prior authorization be given before an OxyContin prescription is filled.  

ICER estimates the average annual cost of an ADF opioid (90mg MED) prescription at $4,234, nearly twice that of a non-ADF opioid ($2,124).  If all opioid medication was made with ADFs, ICER says the additional cost to patients and insurers would be $645 million over five years.

Are ADFs worth it, given their mixed record in preventing abuse and addiction?

According to startling cost-benefit analysis devised by ICER, preventing a single case of opioid abuse with ADFs costs $165,868. The same analysis found that preventing just one overdose death with ADFs would cost $977,119,566 – almost a billion dollars.

Survey Shows Addicts Abusing ADF Opioids

A new report from RADARS, a national drug abuse tracking system, would seem to support ICER’s analysis that ADFs are not making a significant impact on abuse. A survey of 1,775 addicts about to enter treatment in early 2017 found that ADF opioids were still being chewed, snorted, injected and smoked, but at rates "slightly lower" than those of non-ADF opioids.



“The majority of individuals who abused an ER (extended release) opioid abused an ADF opioid (58.6%), but the proportion of respondents who reported abuse via tampering was slightly lower for ADF opioids than ER opioids as a whole. Among individuals entering treatment, abuse of prescription opioids by chewing, snorting, or injecting is prevalent with oral solid dosage formulations of both IR (immediate release) and ER opioids,” the RADARS report said.

Lost in the debate over the cost and effectiveness of ADF’s is the decreasing role played by prescriptions opioids in the nation’s overdose epidemic. As PNN has reported, prescriptions for hydrocodone and other painkillers have been declining for years, yet drug overdoses continue to continue climb; fueled by heroin, illicit fentanyl and other illegal drugs, for which there are no abuse deterrent formulas other than abstinence and sobriety.

FDA Approves New Long Acting Painkiller

By Pat Anson, Editor

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new extended release opioid pain medication with abuse deterrent properties.

Egalet Corporation announced Monday that the FDA has approved Arymo ER – a long-acting version of morphine -- for the management of pain severe enough to require daily, around-the-clock opioid treatment. It comes in the form of a pill that is very difficult to crush or liquefy, methods used by abusers to speed the release of an opioid into the bloodstream.

"With the majority of ER opioids in easy to abuse forms, it is important that healthcare professionals have additional treatment options like Arymo ER that are resistant to different methods of manipulation using a variety of tools," Bob Radie, president and CEO of Egalet said in a news release.

“Arymo ER has physical and chemical properties expected to make abuse by injection difficult which is important given it is the most common non-oral route of morphine abuse and the most dangerous.”

An FDA advisory panel recommended in a 18-1 vote last August that Arymo be approved. It is is the 7th opioid with abuse deterrent properties approved by the FDA. The other medications are OxyContin, Targiniq, Embeda, Hysingla, Morphabond, and Xtampza.

Arymo has been approved in three dosage strengths: 15 mg, 30 mg and 60 mg. Egalet plans to make the drug available in the first quarter of 2017.

Arymo is the first commercial product developed with Egalet’s Guardian technology, which incorporates the medication into a polymer matrix tablet to make it difficult to misuse or abuse.

“Guardian Technology results in tablets that are extremely hard, very difficult to chew, resistant to particle size reduction, and inhibit/block attempts at chemical extraction of the active pharmaceutical ingredient,” the company says in a statement on its website.

“In addition, the technology results in a viscous hydrogel on contact with liquid, making syringe-ability very difficult. These features are important to address the risk of accidental misuse (e.g., chewing) in patients with chronic pain, as well as intentional abuse using more rigorous methods of manipulation. “

The approval of abuse-deterrent medications is still somewhat controversial. Some medical professionals and anti-opioid activists say the technology does not completely prevent abuse and the drugs are still being misused by addicts.

Abuse Deterrent Pain Medications Deserve Support

Barby Ingle, Columnist

It's no secret that the abuse of pain medication and illegal opioids has led to a growing public health problem across the country. The numbers are alarming and they are growing.

Also alarming is the number of people who suffer with chronic pain. According to the Institute of Medicine, one in three Americans – about 100 million people – have been affected with a condition that causes pain.

Since 2002, I have been battling Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), a progressive neuro-autoimmune condition that affects multiple systems in the body. The worst symptom for me is the constant burning fire pain. It feels like someone put lighter fluid in me, lit it, and I can’t put the fire out. I know firsthand how difficult the journey for pain relief can be, particularly the sidelong glances and disbelief from medical professionals.

The challenges are complex and multi-layered, and I always applaud solutions that help to balance pain management with the cost that prescription drug abuse has on society. Promising technological advancements in recent years are proving to be an important part of the battle.

Among these are so-called "abuse deterrent formulas" (ADFs) of commonly prescribed opioid pain medications that are being developed to prevent some of the deadliest forms of opioid abuse. The formulas generally make it harder to crush or liquefy pills for snorting or injecting.

These tamper deterring formulas of pain medications provide patients with the same pain relief as conventional opioids, but incorporate breakthrough technology designed to protect against tampering and abuse.

Since Purdue Pharma introduced a reformulated abuse deterrent version of OxyContin (oxycodone ER) in 2010, the “nonmedical” or recreational use of OxyContin has fallen dramatically.  

source: radars system

source: radars system

Several states are considering legislation in 2017 to improve patient access to these new abuse deterrent formulas of painkillers. As bills are introduced and updated, the International Pain Foundation and other pain organizations track them on our websites, put out action alerts and ask for the pain patient community to get involved by sharing their stories.

ADFs have received widespread support as part of a comprehensive effort to combat prescription drug abuse and promote appropriate pain management, including from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, members of Congress, and the National Association of Attorneys General — including California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who was recently elected to the U.S. Senate.

Abuse of pain medications has led to a growing public health problem nationwide. Each year approximately 4.5 million Americans use prescription pain medications for non-medical purposes, contributing to more than 14,000 overdose deaths annually.

To date, the Food and Drug Administration has approved abuse-deterrent labeling for seven drugs (OxyContin, Targiniq, Embeda, Hysingla, Morphabond, Xtampaza, and Troxyca), with two other abuse-deterrent opioids under review.

This technology is only part of the solution, but it is a solution nonetheless. Patients that have struggled with addiction or substance abuse in the past, those who live with others who are current or recovering addicts, and those who live with teens or young adults who may seek opioids for recreational use can all benefit from ADFs.

For the sake of those with legitimate, life-altering pain and for the safety of those prone to abuse these medications, I urge our lawmakers to stand up for policies that preserve and improve patient access to ADF technology.

Barby Ingle suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain Foundation. She is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her website.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

FDA Approves New Version of Oxycodone

By Pat Anson, Editor

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new extended released version of the opioid painkiller oxycodone that has abuse deterrent properties unlike anything else on the market.

The drug – called Xtampza – can be ingested in capsule form, but users can also sprinkle the capsule contents on soft foods or into a cup, and then directly into the mouth.

The medication, which can also be ingested through a feeding tube, is the sixth opioid pain medication with an abuse deterrent formula to be approved by the FDA.  

Xtampza is made by Massachusetts-based Collegium Pharmaceutical (NASDAQ: COLL) with proprietary technology that combines oxycodone with fatty acid and waxes to form small spherical beads that are placed inside the capsule.

The beads are designed to resist breaking, crushing, chewing, dissolving and melting, methods long used by drugs abusers to snort or inject opioids.  

collegium pharmaceutical image

collegium pharmaceutical image

That novel approach is different from other abuse deterrent formulas, which generally make it harder for tablets to be crushed or liquefied; or come with a chemical irritant to discourage tampering.

“The FDA approval of Xtampza ER is a major milestone for Collegium. Our DETERx technology platform was developed internally and our lead product completed an extensive battery of abuse-deterrent testing consistent with the FDA Guidance on Abuse-Deterrent Opioids,” said Michael Heffernan, CEO of Collegium.

Another advantage of Xtampza is that it gives an alternative to patients who have trouble swallowing tablets or capsules, a condition know as dysphagia.  

"People like me live with dysphagia that prevents us from swallowing normally all the time. Up until this new drug coming out, people not able to swallow have had to rely on liquids and patches for relief - not being able to take their oxycodone," said PNN columnist Ellen Lenox Smith, who suffers from Ehlers Danlos syndrome and sarcoidosis. She testified in favor of Xtampza's approval for the U.S. Pain Foundation.

"Although this is a medication not compatible to my body, I testified on it's behalf for those people around the country not able to take their medications and thus not getting the relief they deserve. I am thrilled that this got approved so soon and that people will have this as an option and hope that this safer  formula will help to calm the nerves of all the people out there concerned about addiction to opiates," Smith said.

“Xtampza ER also allows for flexible dosing administration for patients with difficulty swallowing. Patients or their caregivers often inadvertently crush their medication to facilitate swallowing, which can be very dangerous with currently marketed ER products,” said Dr. Jeffrey Gudin, Director of Pain Management and Palliative Care at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center.

Xtampza, which is designed to be taken twice a day by patients who need around-the-clock pain relief, comes with an FDA warning to take the medication with food. Taking it on an empty stomach could lead to inadequate pain control.

Collegium plans to launch Xtampza ER in the U.S. in mid-2016 with five dosage strengths equivalent to 10 mg, 15 mg, 20 mg, 30 mg and 40 mg oxycodone.