Powerful new drug Dsuvia sparks fears amid opioid epidemic


A new drug approved by the FDA has caught the attention of those on the front lines of fighting the opioid epidemic.

Dsuvia, made by a 13-year-old California-based company, AcelRx Pharmaceuticals, is a powerful opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and stronger than fentanyl.

>> On AJC.com: Opioid prescriptions now require a database check

It’s “very scary,” said Alpharetta, Georgia, resident Dawn Camarda, who formed the Blake Meier New Life Foundation after her 26-year-old son died of a fentanyl overdose in a West Palm Beach, Florida, motel room in 2016.

Before the drug was approved, she said: “If this drug does make it through, I certainly hope there are strict regulations. If this drug hits the street, it will be even more devastating than fentanyl. I wish the drug companies would work on a nonaddictive painkiller rather than a more potent opioid, as we all know this new drug will become a big issue with addiction.”

>> On AJC.com: Georgia mother wonders if she missed early signs of addiction

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Anesthetic and Analgesic Drug Products Advisory Committee last month voted 10-3 to approve Dsuvia. The FDA gave final approval Friday.

The fast-acting product contains a synthetic painkiller known as sufentanil and is meant to be taken in a supervised medical setting, such as a hospital emergency department. The new product comes in tablet form that dissolves quickly under the tongue.

Dr. Pamela Palmer, co-founder and chief medical officer at AcelRx, defended the drug.

It fills a much-needed gap, she said.

>> On MyAJC.com: Doctors and the opioid crisis: An AJC investigation

“It’s not at all for prescription use, and it’s certainly not for use at home,” Palmer said.

The product is for moderate and severe pain.

“There is currently no way available to rapidly treat your pain without sticking you with a needle,” Palmer said. “If you broke your femur and are obese or elderly or on a blood thinner, that can be very painful with a lot of bruising. If you take a pill, you have to swallow it with water and wait for it to kick in, which could take up to an hour. Right now, that’s all that’s available. For the first time, we’ve developed a small tablet that goes under the tongue and dissolves in about six minutes.”

>> On AJC.com: Former high school quarterback overdosed – and lived to tell his story

There aren’t pain medications like that currently available for patients who don’t have cancer.

Attention on Dsuvia comes during a rare bipartisan effort, in which President Donald Trump recently signed sweeping legislation that, among other things, improves access to treatment and authorizes research into nonaddictive drugs that could be used for controlling pain.

So the fact an even more powerful drug is getting approved is confusing to Farley Barge, co-founder of Navigate Recovery Gwinnett. He has watched several relatives and friends struggle with opioid and alcohol addiction.

“Like most of the opioid drugs, the potential for abuse is great," he said.

He’s worried that the drug could still fall into the wrong hands, especially if there is demand.

“We know that one reason people give for taking drugs is that typically what a patient is taking stops working over time," he said. "Their tolerance level for opioids increases. So this drug is just another step in the process. I question whose interests we’re watching out for here.”

>> Read more trending news 

In 2016, more than 63,000 people in the United States died of an opioid overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although deaths might have involved more than one drug, prescription and/or illicit opioids were involved in 66.4 percent of the cases.

“Several people we know have said one of the worst things they ever did was to follow their doctor’s orders, and they ended up addicted to opioids,” Barge said. “We do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. With FDA approval, these types of drugs are just upping the ante.”

Palmer said AcelRx has taken steps to monitor use and supplies of the drug.

“I’m not saying that drugs delivered to hospitals never get stolen or abused, but that’s a tiny sliver” of the opioid epidemic problem, Palmer said.

Dr. Gaylord Lopez, director of the Georgia Poison Center, still worries, however.

“Obviously, you always have to blink twice, especially in light of the opioid epidemic, when you hear about a new product coming into the marketplace,” he said. “It’s another straw on the camel’s back. The problem is the camel’s back is already broken.”


Reader Comments


Next Up in Health

This everyday task can help you avoid high blood pressure, study says
This everyday task can help you avoid high blood pressure, study says

A healthy diet and consistent workout routine can help you avoid high blood pressure. But there’s a simple task that can also lower your risk, according to a new report.  Researchers from the University at Buffalo recently conducted a study, published in the American Journal of Hypertension, to determine the link between dental...
'Baby, It's Cold Outside' writer's daughter says song isn't about date rape
'Baby, It's Cold Outside' writer's daughter says song isn't about date rape

The daughter of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" writer Frank Loesser is firing back against critics who are giving the holiday classic a frosty reception this year. Susan Loesser, 74, spoke to NBC News last week, defending the 1944 song against claims that it normalizes date rape. "Bill Cosby ruined it for everybody," she said...
More blood pressure medication recalled due to possible cancer risk
More blood pressure medication recalled due to possible cancer risk

Yet another blood pressure medication has been added to the list of recalled hypertension drugs.  Mylan Pharmaceuticals has voluntarily expanded its recall for its valsartan-containing products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced. The affected pills include valsartan, amlodipine/valsartan and valsartan/hydrochlorothiazide...
6 things you may not know about Christmas 
6 things you may not know about Christmas 

Christmas has many traditions that are so entrenched you probably don't give them much thought. But when you consider why things are done the way they are, you'll find that just about every element of Christmas has an interesting, evolving story behind it. Here are six things you may not know about Christmas: Dec. 25 probably wasn't the day when Jesus...
Tracking Santa: Where's Santa now and when will he be at your home?
Tracking Santa: Where's Santa now and when will he be at your home?

It's the question at the top of every child's mind on Christmas eve: where is Santa now and when will he get to my house? Fortunately, there are several ways to track St. Nick so you can see when he's scheduled to arrive in various parts of the world. Whether you prefer a website, an app, social media or even an old-school phone call, it's easy to...
More Stories