Written by Jun Jie (JJ) Ong.

The dangers of overdosing on opioids, such as heroin, is common knowledge. Popular TV series such as Mr Robot and BBC’s Sherlock feature the detrimental effects that such drugs can have on their main protagonists. Indeed, it is dangerous to downplay the prevalence of opioid abuse; data from 2018 showed that 128 people in the United States alone die from opioid overdose every day. These drugs include not only street drugs, but also prescription pain relivers such as tramadol and morphine. The Opioid Crisis is a serious global catastrophe that necessitates the combine efforts of policy makers, public health authorities, and researchers. 

There are various ways in which opioids can be abused, such as dissolving the drug and injecting it, or crushing the tablet and snorting it. Simultaneous alcohol and drug consumption is also a practice frequently observed in drug abusers. Such diversion from the intended route of administration will result in abnormally high drug levels, causing abusers to experience a “high” but also potentially fatal side effects. Therefore, there is a need to derive innovative formulations and manufacturing strategies to confer abuse deterring properties in opioid tablets. 

Fused deposition modelling (FDM) 3D printing was previously reported to show abuse-deterrent properties. Also, FDM 3D printed medicines have been shown to be stronger compared to conventional tablets. Therefore, we sought to expand on these existing works and confer alcohol-resistant properties in our printed tablets. Through the use of our in-house direct powder extrusion 3D printer, we successfully printed Tramadol tablets. These tablets was made from common pharmaceutical excipients, namely hydroxypropylcellulose (HPC), polyethylene oxide, D-mannitol, and magnesium stearate. Our tablets were found to possess satisfactory abuse-deterrent properties, and drug release were equal in alcoholic and non-alcoholic media. Snorting of the crushed tablets is further deterred as the gelling properties of HPC will cause nasal irritation.  

In this study, we have successfully developed an innovative formulation for opioid medicines to assist in the global combat against opioid abuse. To find out more, feel free to read our paper here: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpharm.2020.119169