Monthly Archives: January 2011

FDA issues warning for drugs containing common painkiller, opiate drugs affected

From over-the-counter cough medicine to prescription pain medication such as Vicodin, the common ingredient acetaminophen has been limited to 325 milligrams per dose by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration due to risk of severe liver injury. Currently, many of these drugs contain 500-650 milligrams of acetaminophen, including popular opiate-based painkillers like Percocet, according to this chart from the FDA. According to this press release from earlier in January, prescribed medications containing 325 milligrams or more are still considered safe under physician supervision as long as the dose does not exceed 4,000 milligrams per day.  At highest risk are those who take common pain relievers like Tylenol along with their prescribed medications already containing acetaminophen.

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More die from drug overdoses than alcohol or firearms in 2007

Deaths induced by drugs overtook those by alcohol and firearms in the U.S. in 2007, reveal new statistics from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention. Released earlier this month, this study found that a total of 38,371 drug-induced deaths occurred, the majority of whom were white, low-income males.

According to this article from drugalert.com, the doctor who wrote the study said the increase is due to the larger numbers of prescription drugs being prescribed by physicians, especially for opioid painkillers like OxyContin.

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OxyContin abuse holding steady among teens, other drug use decreases

Illicit drug use may be leveling off among teens after a period of steady decline, reports this recent study from the University of Michigan. Unfortunately, prescription drug abuse is an exception to this trend.

The study, released last month, showed that the overall use of any illicit drugs among youths has been rising over the past three years due mainly to the increased use of marijuana. Though the proportion of young people reporting using any other illicit drug has been gradually declining for some years, that decline halted in 2010 in grades 8, 10 and 12. However, the use of OxyContin specifically has risen by an average of four percent between 2002 and 2010. Of particular interest is the method most students used to acquire the painkiller – through friends and family members.

Another trend noted in the study is the peak of drug-use in the 1990s followed by a decline of all drugs, except for prescription drugs which continued to rise throughout the 2000s.

Read more about prescription drug abuse among teens here.

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Opiate painkillers more deadly than cocaine, permanently change brain

Opiate painkillers now kill more Americans than cocaine or heroin, reports this article in Harvard Mental Health Letter. Prescriptions for opiate drugs like OxyContin have increased tenfold in the U.S. since 1990 and the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that nearly two million Americans were abusing prescription pain relievers – almost twice as many people as are addicted to cocaine.

Unlike other forms of pain management, opiates activate the pleasure receptors in the brain, causing euphoria and leading to a high likelihood of addiction. According to the article, this risk makes prescribing painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin for moderate pain controversial.

The article also reports that certain characteristics make a person predisposed to abuse, such as age (teenagers and young adults are more likely to become addicted) and a family history of addiction. Because opiate addiction creates long-term changes in the brain and users are prone to relapse, treatment for addiction is most successful when it is completed in two phases: detoxification from the painkillers, followed by a longer or indefinite maintenance phase.

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Painkiller abused discussed on Calif. radio program, Watchdog weighs in

OxyWatchdog founder Erin Marie Daly weighed in on the prescription drug abuse epidemic during Friday’s KQED Forum, a live public affairs radio program broadcast in Northern California. According to the show’s guest panel, prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the U.S. and is now responsible for more deaths than motor vehicle-related accidents. Additionally, emergency room visits due to misuse of prescription drugs has doubled in past 5 years to 1.2 million.

During the program, President Barack Obama’s chief drug policy advisor Gil Kerlikowske said he believes prescription drug abuse is the greatest drug problem in the U.S. today but is less visible because prescription drugs are not illicitly manufactured or smuggled across the border. He said people tend to think of these medications as naturally safe since they are pharmaceuticals despite the fact that opioid painkillers such as OxyContin, in addition to being the most highly prescribed drug in the U.S., also cause the most drug-related emergency room visits and deaths.

The government faces a unique challenging in curbing the abuse since most users are not typical drug addicts in that their addiction is unintentional and their drug of choice is often acquired legitimately. However, with the growing rate of addiction, the illicit diversion of prescription drugs is also a major problem, especially through online dispensaries which can ship and sell drugs across borders and without prescriptions.

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Georgia town cracking down on pill mills

After the recent shutdown of an illegal prescription drug operation outside Atlanta, the city council of Marietta, Ga. is considering stringent regulations for businesses that plan on selling prescription drugs, reports this article from My Fox Atlanta. New businesses would be required to prove they don’t plan on opening a so-called “pill mill” by providing the names of pharmacists working at the business, names of owners and investors, and whether any of those people are convicted felons. The new regulations come from a list of recommendations issued by Cobb County’s law enforcement task force, which also found 52 of the 58 deaths in the county caused by overdoses in 2009 were from pharmaceutical drugs, reports this article from the Marietta Daily Journal. Though the proposal is set for further consideration, some council members fear the measures are too invasive, according the article.

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Maine holds title for highest rate of prescription drug abuse

A new report bills Maine as the state with the highest rate of addiction to painkillers, with an average of 386 people per 100,000 seeking treatment for addiction compared to the national average of 45 per 100,000, reports this article from the Bangor Daily News. According to the report studying substance abuse treatment services from 1998-2008, Northeastern states have seen the highest rates of medical opiate addiction admissions.

In the article, Guy Cousins, director of the Maine Office of Substance Abuse, compared the availability of prescription drugs to that of alcohol in homes. According to this article in the Boston Herald, 10 to 15 percent of Maine high school students have used narcotic painkillers in the last month. Though Maine has established a voluntary online prescription monitoring program, only about 35 percent of Maine’s licensed prescribers participate in the program.

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