3D printing abuse-deterrent opioid tablets

In the last ten years there has been an increase in opioid prescriptions and due to this rise opioid abuse is an established global health crisis. According to WHO, 27million people worldwide are affected by drug addiction and misuse, especially opioids due to their extremely effective painkilling action.

A team of researchers from  University College London (UCL) are trying to deter opioid abuse with a 3D printed tablet that has alcohol-resistant and abuse-deterrent properties. These tablets are meant to be a safer method of drug administration.

The team used a mixture of active ingredient tramadol hydrochloride with D-Mannitol (plasticizer) and magnesium stearate (lubricant).  This mixture was used to 3D print 16x 10mm diameter tablets using direct powder extrusion – a form of 3D printing very similar to FDM.

Most drug abuse coincides with alcohol use and as mixing alcohol with opioids can be fatal the team wanted to produce tablets that would not be accentuated by the use of alcohol. To test the alcohol resistance of the tablets the team tested the tablet in 40% ethanol and in water. The researcher recorded that the tablet actually dissolved slower in the presence of alcohol meaning if the tablets were to mix with alcohol in the stomach of a user, the chances of a fast-release induced overdose (aka alcohol-induced dose-dumping) would be reduced.

The team also tested the ability to inject or snort the tablets. To test the ‘syringeability’ of the tablets, they boiled a tablet for five minutes and was drawn up a 5 mL syringe. After testing the mixture in the syringe, it showed that only 20% of the active drug remained making it injection resistant.

Finally, to test the ability to snort the tablet the team grinded a tablet in a coffee grinder and measured the particle sizes, any particle smaller than 500 microns were considered small enough to be snorted and absorbed. 92% of the particle were small enough to be snorted and affect the user, although the researchers concluded that the inherent gelling properties of tramadol hydrochloride would cause enough clogging and discomfort in a user’s nose that they would be discouraged from further nasal use.


Essop, Anas, et al. “UCL Researchers 3D Print Abuse-Deterrent Opioid Tablets.” 3D Printing Industry, 6 May 2020, 3dprintingindustry.com/news/ucl-researchers-3d-print-abuse-deterrent-opioid-tablets-171468/.