Purdue Pharma, Associated Press
This product image provided by Purdue Pharma shows Hysingla, the first hard-to-abuse version of the painkiller hydrocodone. The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014 approved Hysingla, a once-a-day tablet for patients with severe, round-the-clock pain that cannot be managed with other treatments.

WASHINGTON — Federal health regulators have approved the first hard-to-abuse version of the painkiller hydrocodone, offering an alternative to a similar medication that has been widely criticized for lacking such safeguards.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Purdue Pharma's Hysingla ER, for patients with severe, round-the-clock pain that cannot be managed with other treatments. The once-a-day tablet is designed to resist attempts to crush it for snorting or injecting. Purdue Pharma's new drug poses a direct commercial challenge to Zogenix's much-debated drug Zohydro, a twice-a-day hydrocodone tablet approved by the FDA last year.

Doctors prescribe opioids for a range of ailments, from post-surgical pain to arthritis and migraines. Deaths linked to abuse of the medications have quadrupled since 1990 to nearly 17,000 annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.