Monthly Archives: August 2011

Pill dealer pleads guilty to murder in OD case

Jeff George, the 30-year-old prescription drug kingpin arrested last week in Florida, has pleaded guilty to felony second-degree murder in the overdose death of Joey Bartolucci, a 24-year-old addict who died in February 2009 after taking hydromorphone and other drugs. Jeff and his brother Chris have been accused of running the largest illegal pain clinic network in the country, raking in $40 million in two years. Each of their four clinics pulled in up to $50,000 a day, and the brothers sold 20 million pain pills by the time the clinics were shut down, prosecutors have alleged. Fifty-six overdose deaths have been traced to the George clinics.

Sentiment surrounding the George case is split between those who think justice is being served to a drug dealer who showed a callous disregard for human life, and those who say he shouldn’t be held accountable for the actions of a drug addict (read more here).

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Pill-related deaths top skin cancer, HIV fatalities

We already knew that opiate painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin and hydrocodone are responsible for killing more Americans than cocaine or heroin, and that prescription drug abuse kills more people under the age of 34 every year than car crashes. Now, research shows that prescription opiates also kill more people than skin cancer, alcoholic liver disease and HIV, according to a new study published in the British Medical Journal. The number of deaths associated with opioid analgesics tripled between 1999 and 2007, increasing from 4,041 to 14,459, the authors of the study found.

It’s interesting to note how long it takes a trend to be defined as an epidemic. But with these kinds of statistics, it’s pretty hard to ignore the toll prescription drugs are taking on our society.

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Charges rendered in pill overdose cases

When someone overdoses on prescription drugs, it’s often difficult to pursue criminal charges against the individuals involved. But in two recent cases, that’s exactly what happened. In Fernandina Beach, Fla., “mobile drug dealer” Rodney Young Odum has been charged with manslaughter for selling 21-year-old Aaron Douglas the methadone pills that took his life. (The cause of death was multiple drug toxicity, according to the Fernandina Beach Police Department.) And in West Palm Beach, prosecutors have charged Jeff George of felony second-degree murder and a doctor of first-degree murder in the overdose death of Joey Bartolucci, a 24-year-old addict who died in February 2009 after taking hydromorphone and other drugs. Jeff and his brother Chris, both 30, have been accused of running the largest illegal pain clinic network in the country, raking in $40 million in two years.

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Google to pay $500M for online pharmacy ads

Obtaining prescription drugs from rogue pharmacies online just got a little bit harder, with Google Inc. agreeing to forfeit $500 million for allowing online Canadian pharmacies to place ads targeting U.S. consumers in search of medicines like OxyContin, according to the U.S. Justice Department. The forfeiture is one of the largest ever in the U.S., the DOJ said. Google, for its part, has acknowledged that it improperly assisted Canadian online pharmacy advertisers and said it has banned the advertising of prescription drugs in the U.S. by Canadian pharmacies. “It’s obvious with hindsight that we shouldn’t have allowed these ads on Google in the first place,” the company said in a statement.

Better late than never.

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The Ryan Creedon Act

Like many moms, Kathy Creedon of Palm Desert, Calif. never dreamed her son Ryan would become a drug addict. But Ryan became addicted to prescription drugs, and in 2009, he died of an overdose of OxyContin and Xanax. He was just 21 years old. Kathy has taken up the fight against prescription drug addiction, starting a nonprofit organization called M.A.P.D.A. (Mothers Against Prescription Drug Abuse) to bring awareness to the public about the risks of pill abuse. In addition, California Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack has introduced federal legislation in Ryan’s name. The Ryan Creedon Act of 2011 aims to educate doctors about the dangers of prescribing OxyContin and other drugs that are subject to abuse, and hopefully prevent Ryan’s situation from happening to others.

According to Kathy, in the 13-month period prior to Ryan’s death, he experienced six near-fatal prescription drug overdoses – yet his health care provider, Kaiser Permanente, continued to prescribe him massive amounts of pills even though Kathy repeatedly warned them that her son was an addict. The day before Ryan died, for example, he was given a prescription for 60 Xanax pills. “Every single time I thought I’d covered my tracks and put a stop to it, I’d see another bottle from Kaiser and it made me sick to my stomach that this could go on,” she says. “It’s mind-boggling that it happened to me and Ryan, but even more so that it’s happening all over the place.”

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Addiction a ‘chronic brain disorder:’ ASAM

The American Society of Addiction Medicine, the nation’s largest professional society of physicians dedicated to treating and preventing addiction, has issued a new definition of addiction highlighting the fact that addiction is a chronic brain disorder and not simply a behavioral problem. This is a big deal, because it’s the first time the organization has taken an official position that addiction is not solely related to problematic substance use. ASAM notes that “when people see compulsive and damaging behaviors in friends or family members — or public figures such as celebrities or politicians — they often focus only on the substance use or behaviors as the problem. However, these outward behaviors are actually manifestations of an underlying disease.”

Interestingly, the new definition also states that genetic factors account for about half of the likelihood that an individual will develop addiction. And although some believe that the difference between addicts and non-addicts is the quantity or frequency of substance use, ASAM says it’s more about the qualitative way in which the individual responds to substance exposures, stressors and environmental cues: “Preoccupation with, obsession with and/or pursuit of rewards (e.g., alcohol and other drug use) persist despite the accumulation of adverse consequences.”

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Purdue contest draws activist fire

Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, is holding an online photo contest to give people living with chronic pain an opportunity to portray their personal experiences. According to the company’s Partners Against Pain campaign website, “people living with chronic pain and their caregivers know that a successful hands-on approach for pain management requires compassion, communication, and partnership. Help us show the complete picture through a photo that represents your personal experience with pain.” In response, activists against prescription drug abuse are encouraging friends and family members to submit photos of deceased loved ones who have passed away due to OxyContin.

The contact at Purdue is Pamela P. Bennett, executive director of healthcare alliance development, at

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OxyContin In Your Words: Brett O’Keefe

“OxyContin In Your Words” stories are unedited accounts of painkiller and heroin addiction. This story comes from Kathy and Ben O’Keefe.

Brett was never a good student. But, he was a great friend. Starting in middle school, he started smoking pot. According to him, over the next few years, came ecstasy, bars (Xanax), meth, and heroin. He just liked to get high.

His first overdose was at our home. We found him in the morning. The anxiety was something I had never experienced and know that I never wanted to again. When the doctor at the ER said it was a heroin overdose, we all just froze. That brought 5 days in the hospital and an understanding of how this drug destroys the body.

Clean for about 6 months, on Sept. 30th, we got a call from a family where he had spent the night. “Brett has overdosed, and it does not look good.” Off to Baylor Hospital with that horrid gut wrenching pain. This time there was quite a bit of blood, it was just really different than what we experienced the first time. The doctor put him on a ventilator, stabilized him and off to ICU we went. We had already learned how to monitor the machines and pray for his life. So that is what we did. That is all we could do.

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Fla. Oxy overdose deaths up 27.9% in 2010

In Florida, deaths caused by oxycodone in 2010 were up by 27.9% as compared with 2009, according to the newly-released 2010 Florida Medical Examiners Commission Report on Drugs Identified in Deceased Persons. Medical examiners who performed more than 9,000 drug-related autopsies found that in 2010, 5,647 people died with one or more prescription drugs in their system. Of those cases, prescription drugs were the cause of death for 2,710 individuals, marking an 8.9 percent increase over 2009. Oxycodone was responsible for the most deaths (1,516), compared to 981 deaths caused by benzodiazepines (981 of which were caused by Xanax), 694 due to methadone, 572 due to alcohol and 561 due to cocaine.

Despite these numbers, Florida officials maintain they are reining in the state’s prescription drug abuse epidemic. Gov. Rick Scott and law enforcement officials noted that there has been a 17% drop in the number of oxycodone purchases by pharmacies and health care providers during the first five months of this year after pill mill legislation was passed. Scott also announced that a statewide strike force has resulted in 937 arrests, including 17 doctors and the seizure of more than 252,000 pills as well as $1.68 million in cash.

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1 in 5 teens abusing pills: cause for celebration?

More than one in five teens who have been prescribed controlled medications like OxyContin end up misusing the drugs, and these kids are more likely than others to abuse other substances and to start giving or selling drugs to their peers, according to a new study on teens and controlled medications in the August issue of Archives of Pediatrics.

Disturbingly, instead of focusing on the fact that 18 percent of the nearly 3,000 teen respondents said they had used at least one prescribed controlled medication during the past year, the lead author of the study said it was important to note that the majority of secondary school kids who are prescribed opioids and other controlled medications don’t abuse them, according to this article in HealthDay News. “The field doesn’t want to go back to having so much fear associated with these medications that we then underprescribe them,” said Sean Esteban McCabe, according to the article.

I get the whole glass-half-empty-or-glass-half-full thing when evaluating statistics. But this type of thinking is the result of the push in the late 1990s by organizations like the American Pain Society to convince U.S. doctors that they weren’t adequately treating pain and were under-prescribing opioid pain medications due to a misguided fear of causing addiction. (For a fantastic sum-up of the history of the pain management movement, visit Dr. Jana Burson’s pain pill addiction blog.)

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