But there is no end in sight to the larger epidemic. Even though Purdue released a new version of OxyContin that it claims is harder to crush into powder, market analysts predict the company's huge sales increases to continue. According to Fortune magazine, the total opioids market is expected to grow from an $11 billion per year to $16 billion per year by 2016. Meanwhile, the cost to health insurers of prescription painkiller abuse has risen to $72.5 billion annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
To hedge its bets, Purdue is also looking at new markets for OxyContin. In July, the New York Times reported that the company was studying the effects of the drug on children. If it can reformulate the drug for young patients, it could extend its patent on Oxy, which otherwise will expire next year.
"It looks to me like a raw, crass, last-gasp exploitation of a drug that has been synonymous with misuse, abuse, and harm to patients," Dr. Arthur Caplan, the head of the division of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, told the Times.
As for the millions already addicted to opioids, who are hoping to kick their habits, the next step is often drug-replacement therapy with methadone or buprenorphine. Luckily, there's a new way to take buprenorphine: in a handy transdermal patch called Butrans.
Purdue makes Butrans, too.
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