Pennsylvania Could Classify Zohydro™ ER as Schedule I Controlled Substance

In response to the FDA’s approval of the prescription drug Zohydro™ ER, despite an advisory committee’s overwhelming vote recommending that the drug be rejected; Pennsylvania State Representative Gene DiGirolamo (R-18th Legislative District) introduced House Bill 2203 into the General Assembly of Pennsylvania. The bill, if passed, would effectively classify Zohydro as a schedule I controlled substance within the state, thereby placing a number of rules and regulations in place with regard to the handling, sale, and use of the product.

“I am appalled and outraged at the recent decision of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve the drug Zohydro over the 11-2 vote of its own Anesthetic and Analgesic Drug Advisory Committee,” DiGirolamo wrote to U.S. senators Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). “Our country is in the midst of a public health crisis driven by the prescription drug problem and the availability of this dangerous drug will only make things worse. Zohydro is a more powerful opiate than anything else currently available and is not formulated to be tamper resistant.”

State Bans on Zohydro

As previously reported, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts enjoined a state ban on Zohydro, ruling that the ban was preempted by the FDA’s approval of the drug. However, DiGirolamo has been inconsistent in his comments on whether he intends to ban the use of Zohydro in Pennsylvania. He stated, “[My bill will] not absolutely ban it, but put a lot of different rules and regulations in place here in Pennsylvania before a doctor can prescribe it,” reported NPR. In addition, the bill will “make it much harder for them to prescribe, until we can really look at what this FDA did.” Conversely, DiGirolamo previously stated in a memorandum to Pennsylvania House members that, “In the near future, I intend to introduce legislation to ban the use of Zohydro in Pennsylvania.”

Risk of Abuse

In support of his bill, DiGirolamo noted that Zohydro “is a pure formulation of hydrocodone that is not diluted, is not tamper resistant and contains five to ten times more of the heroin-like opioid than any drug produced.” He continued, “Fatal drug overdoses have risen dramatically in the recent past and without action to protect the public, Zohydro will surely contribute to more deadly overdoses.”

DiGirolamo’s concerns echo the consensus among 29 state Attorney Generals who sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, M.D. last December, requesting that the agency reconsider its approval of Zohydro. They wrote, “We believe your approval of Zohydro ER has the potential to exacerbate our nation’s prescription drug abuse epidemic because this drug will be the first hydrocodone-only opioid narcotic that is reportedly five to ten times more potent than traditional hydrocodone products, and it has no abuse-deterrent properties.”

Federal Action

In addition to introducing the bill to classify Zohydro as a schedule I controlled substance, DiGirolamo is calling on federal officials to: (1) immediately overturn the approval of the sale of Zohydro in the U.S.; (2) request that FDA Commissioner Hamburg resign; and (3) create a ban that prevents FDA employees from working for a pharmaceutical company, in any capacity, for a period of 10 years after leaving employment with the FDA.