Monthly Archives: July 2012

Ohio to use fingerprint scanning to fight painkiller abuse

Local health officials in southern Ohio are adopting a high-tech fingerprint scanning system in a bid to curb prescription drug abuse. Under the one-year pilot program, patients must submit to a fingerprint scan to see a doctor at Holzer Heath System, which operates two hospitals in the region, the Wall Street Journal reports. They must also use fingerprint IDs to get their prescriptions filled at certain pharmacies, according to the article.

Health officials hope the program will help law enforcement target diversion of drugs into the illegal market and identify questionable doctors or suspect pharmacists, the article says.

An average of 67 opioid painkillers are prescribed to every Ohio resident each year, according to state data.

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Painkiller label revision petition comes under fire

A citizens petition by a group of doctors urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to revise the labeling directions on prescription painkillers has come under fire by opponents who say the move would deprive chronic pain sufferers of needed medication. Several medical professionals told ABC News that the proposed regulations would make it harder for doctors to treat legitimate patients – though they agreed on the need to rethink opioid prescriptions.

Wednesday’s petition asks the FDA to prohibit use of opioid analgesics for moderate pain, add a maximum daily dose, and only allow patients to take them for up to 90 days unless they are being treated for cancer-related pain.

The group said the FDA’s current indications for such drugs are “overly broad,” and noted that evidence increasingly shows that long-term use of opioids may be unsafe and ineffective for many patients – especially when prescribed in high doses.

But many doctors falsely believe that chronic treatment with opioids carries no risk, the group said, leading to “over-prescribing and high dose prescribing.”

“The FDA has an opportunity to reduce harm caused to chronic pain patients as well as societal harm caused by diversion of prescription opioids,” the petition stated.

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Doctors urge FDA to change painkiller labels to curb abuse

A group of doctors and public health experts has asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to revise the labeling directions on prescription painkillers to curtail the number of people abusing them. In a citizens petition sent Wednesday to the agency, some 35 medical professionals said the FDA should prohibit use of opioid analgesics for moderate pain, add a maximum daily dose, and only allow patients to take them for up to 90 days unless they are being treated for cancer-related pain.

The group said the FDA’s current indications for such drugs are “overly broad,” and noted that evidence increasingly shows that long-term use of opioids may be unsafe and ineffective for many patients – especially when prescribed in high doses.

But many doctors falsely believe that chronic treatment with opioids carries no risk, the group said, leading to “over-prescribing and high dose prescribing.”

“The FDA has an opportunity to reduce harm caused to chronic pain patients as well as societal harm caused by diversion of prescription opioids,” the petition stated.

Changing the label would not limit how doctors prescribe such drugs, but it would prevent pharmaceutical companies from promoting the drugs for non-approved uses.

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Pill abuse rife among highest- and lowest-income populations: survey

Forbes has a national survey out today examining the demographics of prescription drug abuse that finds that those at the highest income levels and those at the lowest are more likely to be taking prescription drugs than the middle class. One possible explanation: upper-income individuals have insurance, lower-income individuals receive aid and have more health problems, and middle-income individuals might face more out-of-pocket costs, so they take fewer drugs, the news outlet says.

In the early days of the prescription drug addiction epidemic, OxyContin was known as “hillbilly heroin” because its abuse was so widespread in areas of Appalachia. But in recent years, overdose deaths from painkillers have sharply risen in wealthier areas as well.

Among the survey’s findings:

  • 20.4% of those earning $100,000 – $149,000 state they take one prescription drug vs. approximately 14% of those in the other lower-income groups.
  • 10.5% of those earning $0 – $24,999 said they were taking 4 or more prescription drugs, as compared to no respondents in the highest upper-income group ($100,000 – $149,000 income category) indicating they were taking 4 or more prescription drugs, and only 3 – 5% those in the $50,000 – $100,000 ranges.
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Chicago area sees spike in heroin abuse

The Chicago area has long had a problem with prescription drug abuse, and now it’s battling the latest incarnation of the painkiller addiction trend: heroin. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that a more powerful version of heroin has made its way into the Chicago suburbs. As in other areas of the country, kids who are hooked on prescription drugs like OxyContin are turning to heroin because it’s cheaper and provides a similar high. Because of the heightened potency of today’s heroin, users need not inject the drug, but instead can smoke or snort it – making it more attractive to those who might otherwise be turned off by the fear of dirty needles.

Since January 2011 in Naperville, seven people died of heroin overdoses; 30 fatally overdosed on heroin in Will County in 2011; and seven in Kane County last year. Meanwhile, Lake County saw a 130 percent increase in heroin-related deaths between 2000 and 2009, the article says.

According to CBS Chicago, the Eisenhower Expressway has been dubbed the Heroin Highway – a drive where suburban kids can easily score the drug.

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Bono Mack backs tamper-proof painkiller legislation

Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Ca., has introduced legislation that would require pharmaceutical companies to make new opiate-based pills tamper-resistant. Bono Mack, who is co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse, says the “Stop the Tampering of Prescription Pills” (STOPP) Act would mandate that the FDA inform companies that refuse to manufacture tamper-proof versions to reformulate or withdraw their drug from the market.

But already-existing tamper-proof versions of drugs like OxyContin haven’t necessarily curbed the abuse epidemic. Many painkiller addicts have found ways to get their fix from such versions, or have switched to heroin.

Among Bono Mack’s other pending proposals are the Stop Oxy Abuse Act, which would restrict the use of any pain-relief drug containing oxycodone to “the relief of severe-only instead of moderate-to-severe pain,” and the Ryan Creedon Act of 2011 would require anyone who prescribes controlled substances to be educated on the risks such drugs pose to patients before they can register with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. DEA registration is already required by federal law. Unlike President Barack Obama’s recent plan to curb prescription drug abuse – which allows pharmaceutical companies themselves to “educate” doctors on the risks of their products – the bill specifies that this training should be provided by a medical society, a state medical licensing board, an accredited continuing education provider, or “another organization that the Secretary [of Health and Human Services] determines is appropriate for providing such training or certification.”

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Painkiller addiction epidemic prompts rethinking of drug war

The prescription drug abuse epidemic is forcing policy makers to re-evaluate America’s war on drugs, with the nation’s drug problem shifting from illicit substances to abuse of prescription painkillers that are perfectly legal, according to this article in the New York Times.

The article notes that the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that an estimated 1.5 million people had used cocaine in the previous month, down from 2 million in 2002 and 5.8 million in the mid-1980s. Methamphetamine use has also declined in recent years, although heroin use rose slightly, to 239,000 users in 2010 from 213,000 in 2008 – likely as a result of painkiller addicts switching to the street drug.

Meanwhile, prescription painkillers are now the nation’s biggest drug problem, the article says: of the 36,450 overdose deaths in the United States in 2008, 20,044 involved a prescription drug, more than all illicit drugs combined.

Sales of prescription painkillers tripled from 1999 to 2010 — as did the number of fatal poisonings due to prescription pain medications, and enough prescription painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult continually for a month, according to a recent report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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‘Tamper-proof’ Oxy driving painkiller addicts to heroin: researchers

Finally, some official recognition of what treatment providers and addiction experts have been saying all along: the reformulation of OxyContin is prompting painkiller addicts in rural and suburban communities across the country to switch to heroin, according to a letter published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Purdue Pharma’s new version of OxyContin, introduced in 2010, was designed to help discourage misuse and abuse of the medication. Three researchers examined the effect of the abuse-deterrent formulation on the abuse of OxyContin and other opioids, surveying 2,566 people seeking treatment for abuse of or dependence on opioid drugs. Although 24 percent found a way to defeat the tamper-resistant properties of the abuse-deterrent formulation, 66 percent indicated a switch to another opioid, with heroin the most common response.

According to the researchers:

“Our data show that an abuse-deterrent formulation successfully reduced abuse of a specific drug but also generated an unanticipated outcome: replacement of the abuse-deterrent formulation with alternative opioid medications and heroin, a drug that may pose a much greater overall risk to public health than OxyContin. Thus, abuse-deterrent formulations may not be the ‘magic bullets’ that many hoped they would be in solving the growing problem of opioid abuse.”

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FDA’s painkiller training program to be funded by Big Pharma

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a risk management plan that will require drug manufacturers to fund training programs to help doctors and other health care professionals learn how to properly prescribe extended-release and long-acting opioid painkillers, and how to instruct their patients about using them safely. The plan affects more than 20 such manufacturers, including OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, which issued a statement on the development Monday.

According to the FDA, companies that sell the drugs must provide two to three hours of training to prescribers, either for free or for a small fee. At least 60 percent of the 320,000 U.S. prescribers of the drugs must be trained within three years of launching the programs, which must be available by March 2013, the agency said. Drug makers will also be required to distribute safety brochures to patients explaining the risks of the drugs and instructions to seek emergency care in event of an overdose.

Prescription painkillers are responsible for around 15,000 deaths and 475,000 emergency room visits a year, killing more people than car accidents.

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Methadone linked to one-third of painkiller deaths: CDC

More than 15,500 people die every year of prescription drug overdoses, and nearly one-third of those overdoses involve the drug methadone, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While methadone accounts for only two percent of painkiller prescriptions in the United States, it is involved in more than 30 percent of prescription painkiller overdose deaths, the report found.

Methadone, which has been used for decades to treat drug addiction, has been increasingly prescribed in recent years to relieve pain. But the drug is riskier than other painkillers, because it can build up in a person’s body, leading to dangerously slowed breathing. Methadone can also be particularly risky when used with tranquilizers or other prescription painkillers.

More than 4 million methadone prescriptions were written for pain in 2009, despite warnings from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about the risks associated with the drug.

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