WSVN — Prescriptions for powerful painkillers have tripled in the past 12 years, with more people becoming addicted as a result. But local researchers are using new technology to create “tamper-proof pills” that can save lives. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the case.

Cory Lewis spent years addicted to prescription painkillers. The “Hard Times” tattoo on his neck is a constant reminder of those dark days. It started when he was prescribed highly addictive oxycodone.

Cory Lewis: “I had two surgeries done on my ankle and then I got sent to the pain clinic to pick up medication.”

But as 7News first revealed years ago, many of the pain clinics that popped up all over South Florida were nothing more than fronts for selling drugs. Like so many others who started with a legitimate need. Cory says once the pain was gone, the need for the pills remained.

Cory Lewis: “If I didn’t have them I would get sick.”

Jim Hall: “Oxycodone led the prescription drug problem in Florida.”

Substance abuse expert Jim Hall says the drug epidemic exploded when people discovered tampering with the pills gave them the greatest high.

Jim Hall: “Opiate addicts learned they could crush the extended released form of oxycontin and get the full dose all at once.”

7News documented that behavior outside pill mills and even in pharmacy parking lots. Addicts crushed and snorted and crushed and shot up within moments of getting their hands on pain pills. Scientists say abusers do that to bypass the time-release formula.

David Mastropietro: “You can crush it and really get all that medication that was for eight to 12 hours right up front within about ten to 15 minutes.”

But that could be changing thanks to new technology being developed at Nova Southeastern University. Researchers are developing tamper-proof medications.

David Mastropietro: “You can see that my continuously hitting the product. We’re not seeing any major breakage of the tablet.”

Pills even survive a rough ride in a blender.

David Mastropietro: “It would be difficult to snort a tablet when it doesn’t really break up.”

And the pills are equally impossible to turn into a liquid to inject.

David Mastropietro: “As soon as they start to mix it or dissolve it and get the drug out, you’ll start to see that it starts forming a really thick gel.”

And that makes it impossible to draw the medication into a syringe. NSU researchers hope to bring the new technology to the market soon.

Hossein Omidian: “Right now we are in the process of talking to the pharmaceutical companies.”

Cory thinks that if the tamper-proof pills were available when he was prescribed, maybe he would not have become an addict and maybe his brother would be alive today.

Cory Lewis: “My little brother didn’t make it. He stumbled in front of a car while under the influence.”

Nationwide, overdose deaths from pain killers have reached 15,000 a year. The research and development going on here at NSU holds the promise of reducing those heartbreaking losses in the future.

Carmel Cafiero, 7News.

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