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Reality Check: FDA moves to take opioid Opana ER off the market

The Food and Drug Administration recently asked a drug company to remove Opana ER, an opioid, from the market. It was the first time the FDA pushed to remove an opioid because of public health concerns. (WLOS)

HENDERSON COUNTY, N.C. (WLOS) - The Food and Drug Administration recently asked a drug company to remove Opana ER, an opioid, from the market. It was the first time the FDA pushed to remove an opioid because of public health concerns.

The FDA said it's making this request because of how much the drug is being abused. If Endo Pharmaceuticals doesn't pull Opana ER from the market, the FDA said it will take action to force its removal.

RELATED | North Carolina releases plan to fight opioid abuse

One local family says it's too late for their daughter.

Anna Huneycutt would be close to celebrating her 28th birthday.

"She was a sweetheart, a beautiful girl," Don Huneycutt, Anna's father, said.

She accidentally overdosed in 2010 and died from "acute oxymorphone toxicity." Oxymorphone is the compound or generic name of the opioid sold as Opana ER.

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Huneycutt would be happy to hear the FDA wants to take an opioid off the market, but it means even more to Anna's father that it's Opana.

"Just the name brings up anxiety. It even sounds like Anna, you know, Opana. That has an effect on me. That was a drug she took the night before she passed away in the morning - the next day," Huneycutt said.

The FDA estimates Opana ER makes up just a fraction of the country's opioid prescriptions. Sona Pharmacy's Dr. Amber Korn confirms she doesn't frequently dispense it.

"It's more for those patients that have tried other things and haven't gotten the relief that they needed. It's kind of like a last line as far as what we see it for," Korn said.

The FDA estimates North Carolina has the second-highest Oxymorphone ER prescription rate per 1,000 people in the country.

In 2012 the company that sells Opana, Endo Pharmaceuticals, reformulated the drug to prevent people from snorting and injecting it. Only one of those proved true.

"They're not supposed to be able to inject them; however, they are able to," Korn said.

After the reformulation, the FDA said the number of people abusing Opana ER went up. An FDA report blames Opana ER on an increase in HIV and Hepatitis C cases.

Since 2009, in North Carolina, the number of Hepatitis C cases has gone up every year. In 2016, there were eight times as many Hepatitis C cases as in 2009.

"Obviously, it didn't work, and the reformulation turned into a more insidious version of Opana ER," Huneycutt said.

He worries about opioids like Opana being prescribed for moderate pain. He wants more accountability in the health system and shorter prescriptions. He reiterates addiction doesn't discriminate.

"I am not ashamed of my daughter Anna. We talk about her all the time. We celebrate her life. It is especially difficult around Father's Day because there used to be a lot of judgment, I think, in the society about addiction," he shared.

The Huneycutts have been working to do what they can to eliminate that stigma and push to decrease the opioid epidemic.

Endo said Opana works when it's used as prescribed. The FDA is holding a meeting July 10 and 11 to further study if reformulated drugs prevent abuse.

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