Ephemeral profiles of prescription drug and formulation tampering: Evolving pseudoscience on the Internet

Edward J. Cone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The magnitude of non-therapeutic use, or misuse of prescription pharmaceuticals now rivals that of illicit drug abuse. Drug and formulation tampering enables misusers to administer higher doses by intended and non-intended routes. Perceived motives appear to be a combination of interests in achieving a faster onset and enhancing psychoactive effects. Narcotic analgesics, stimulants, and depressants are widely sought, examined, and tampered with for recreational use. This review examines tampering methods reported on the Internet for selected pharmaceutical products. The Internet provides broad and varied guidance on tampering methods that are specific to drug classes and unique formulations. Instructions are available on crushing, separating, purifying and chemically altering specific formulations to allow changes in dosage, route of administration, and time course of effects. Many pharmaceutical formulations contain features that serve as "barriers" to tampering. The nature and effectiveness of formulation barriers vary widely with many being overcome by adventurous misusers. Examples of successes and failures in tampering attempts are frequently described on Internet sites that support recreational drug use. Successful tampering methods that have widespread appeal evolve into recipes and become archived on multiple websites. Examples of tampering methods include: (1) how to separate narcotic drugs (codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone) from excipients and non-desirable actives (aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen); (2) overcoming time-release formulations (beads, layers, matrices); (3) removal of active drug from high-dose formulations (patches, pills); (4) alteration of dosage forms for alternate routes of administration. The development of successful formulations that inhibit or prevent drug/formulation tampering with drugs of abuse should take into consideration the scope and practice of tampering methods available to recreational drug users on the Internet.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S31-S39
JournalDrug and alcohol dependence
Issue numberSUPPL. 1
StatePublished - Jun 2006


  • Barriers
  • Drug misuse
  • Formulation
  • Internet
  • Recipes
  • Tampering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)

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