Monthly Archives: March 2012

New company offers pill comparison shopping – but at what price?

A former Facebook engineer has founded a new startup company that aims to help consumers find cheaper prescription drugs in their area. Good RX allows users to enter a drug and a location, and then gives the price rundown at both nearby pharmacies as well as national mail order companies. It also alerts users to manufacturer co-pay cards, pharmacy discounts, and state discount programs, and provides other “tips” from a real, live on-staff pharmacist on how to slash drug prices.

GoodRX, which says it has compiled more than one million drug prices for more than 6,000 drugs, notes that it doesn’t sell drugs, and only “offers prices and unbiased coupon and discount information for legitimate, licensed U.S. pharmacies that you already visit regularly.”

GoodRx also hopes to profit from data provided by users of its “My Prescriptions” service, which will target users with specific ads and offers based on information provided about medical conditions and prescriptions.

A search for Opana – a popularly abused opioid painkiller – in San Francisco revealed the addresses and phone numbers of more than two dozen pharmacies within a five-mile radius that stock the drug, compared prices, and even offered discount coupons to be presented to pharmacists.

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Ohio’s pill epidemic fuels heroin abuse

Prescription drug abuse in Ohio has reached epidemic levels, and that is driving many painkiller addicts to make the switch to heroin because it is cheaper and readily available, according to a recent report by the Ohio Substance Abuse Monitoring Network. Many heroin users started using the hardcore street drug at around 18 years old after getting hooked on prescription opioids at as young as 12, the report says. Heroin is being pushed aggressively by dealers and is so prevalent that it is “falling out of the sky,” according to the report. Moreover, prescription painkillers like Opana and Roxicodone are gaining in popularity in light of the reformulation of OxyContin.

The report also includes participant comments that reveal the growing scope of the pills-to-heroin phenomenon in the state:

“[Heroin] is as common as going down the street and buying a six-pack of beer. I’m so glad I found heroin. It’s cheaper and easier to find than crack; it’s easier [to obtain] than oxys. You run out of oxys, but never heroin … it’s always around.”

“Ever since the oxy revolution, once they realize what oxy is, synthetic heroin, people find heroin is cheaper.”

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Vets with PTSD often prescribed more opioids: study

War veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder are two times more likely to be prescribed potentially addictive opiod painkillers such as oxycodone, morphine and hydrocodone than those without any mental health problems, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Out of about 141,000 war veterans who were treated for pain at a VA medical center between 2005 and 2010, close to 16,000 were prescribed at least a three-week course of opioids, the study found. While less than seven percent of vets without any mental health problems were prescribed the powerful painkillers, close to 12 percent with a diagnosis such as depression or anxiety were given opioids, and almost 18 percent with PTSD received a prescription.

Dr. Karen Seal, the study’s lead author, told Reuters those numbers were worrisome because some people who take opioids abuse the drugs or overdose on them – and those who already have mental troubles may be most at risk.

Read more about prescription drug addiction among American troops here.

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Calif. doctor facing murder charges in wake of pill overdoses

A California doctor known as “Dr. Feelgood” has been charged with murder and 21 other felony counts in connection with the prescription drug overdose deaths of three of her patients. Dr. Hsiu-Ying “Lisa” Tseng, an osteopathic physician from Rowland Heights, Calif., wrote more than 27,000 prescriptions over a three-year period starting in January 2007 – an average of 25 a day.

According to Los Angeles County prosecutors, Tseng opened a storefront medical office in Rowland Heights in 2005. The Drug Enforcement Administration launched an investigation in 2008 after a pharmacy reported overlapping customers.

Tseng has been charged with murder in the deaths of Vu Nguyen, 29, of Lake Forest, Calif. on March 2, 2009; Steven Ogle, 25, of Palm Desert, Calif., on April 9, 2009; and Joseph Rovero III, 21, an Arizona State University student from San Ramon, Calif. on Dec. 18, 2009. All were patients of Tseng, who prescribed a myriad of drugs for the three young men.

Tseng, who is being held on $3 million bail, faces a possible maximum state prison term of 45 years to life. She has previously denied any wrongdoing.

Read more about Tseng here.

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Cardinal loses round in DEA painkiller distribution fight

A federal judge has ruled that the Drug Enforcement Administration can block Cardinal Health from distributing controlled substances from one of its Florida facilities. Earlier this month, the DEA suspended Cardinal’s license after finding that the company – which is one of the nation’s largest distributors of pharmaceuticals – sold excessive amounts of oxycodone to four Florida pharmacies. (The suspension relates only to the company’s license to distribute controlled substances from its Lakeland, Fla. facility, which the DEA claims shipped 50 times as much oxycodone to its top four customers than it has shipped to its other Florida retail customers.)

Cardinal challenged the suspension in federal court, and both the company and the DEA filed documents that give an inside look into how prescription painkillers have flooded the black market.

Cardinal was granted a temporary restraining order blocking the suspension after convincing a different judge that the move would disrupt drug shipments to more than 2,500 pharmacy customers in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. The company said it has “robust controls and performs careful due diligence,” noting that in the past four years, it has stopped shipping controlled medicines to more than 350 pharmacies it determined posed an unreasonable risk of diversion, including 160 in Florida alone.

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