Attorney General Jack Conway and 41 other chief prosecutors from states and territories urged federal regulators on Monday to require abuse-deterrent versions of some prescription painkillers.
The attorneys general asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make drug companies include measures in generic opioid medications that would make the pills harder to abuse.
Drug companies have done that with some brand-name products such as OxyContin.
The painkiller was a key factor in rising overdose deaths in Kentucky for years because abusers could crush the time-release pills for a heroinlike high. The maker reformulated OxyContin in 2010 to make it more resistant to such tampering.
However, there is concern that as generic versions of different drugs become available, the makers won't incorporate technology to deter abuse.
There are various ways to do that, such as including another drug with the painkiller to blunt or eliminate the illicit high if someone crushes the pill instead of swallowing it whole, according to the FDA.
The prosecutors thanked the FDA for moving to make sure brand-name opioids have abuse-deterrent properties but said it made sense to apply the rule to generics as well.
Abuse of prescription drugs kills hundreds of people every year in Kentucky, and thousands nationwide.
"Requiring abuse-deterrent formulations for generic opioids is a common sense improvement that provides us another important tool to help fight this epidemic," Conway said.
One study found that after OxyContin was reformulated, the number of drug abusers choosing OxyContin went down 49 percent, according to a website called Pain Medicine News.
Opioids are a class of pain relievers that includes brand names such as OxyContin, Percocet, Lortab and Opana.
In an earlier letter to the FDA, Conway and other attorneys general cited a concern with drug abusers shifting from abuse-resistant painkillers to others without such features, and to illegal drugs.
Drug makers have complained about the cost of adding abuse-deterrent features to their products.
However, Conway thinks the cost would not be burdensome and would be well worth the reductions in abuse and deaths, said spokeswoman Allison Gardner Martin.
Monday's letter to the FDA went out from the National Association of Attorneys General. Prosecutors from 41 states and Guam signed it.
Conway co-chairs the Substance Abuse Committee of the association.