Monthly Archives: August 2012

Taking action on International Overdose Awareness Day

Today is International Overdose Awareness Day. Drug overdose death rates in the U.S. have more than tripled since 1990 and have never been higher: in 2009, more than 37,000 people died from drug overdoses, and many of these deaths were caused by prescription painkiller opiate drugs, such as OxyContin.

As this editorial notes, today is a difficult day for those who have lost loved ones to drug addiction.

So, what can be done?

Several things:

Share your personal story. Unless you live on an island in the middle of the ocean, I guarantee you know someone who has struggled or is currently struggling with addiction. Fear and shame keep too many of these stories hidden. Start talking. End the silence. My brother Pat was addicted to prescription painkillers and later heroin, but he kept much of his addiction hidden from his family because he felt ashamed. After he died of a heroin overdose in 2009, I found some of his journals and learned how deeply he struggled with feelings that he had let us down. I wish I had known this before he died. I wish he wasn’t the reason behind this website.

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Painkiller addiction leads to rising sales of black-market suboxone

The rise in addiction to powerful prescription painkillers like OxyContin, as well as heroin, has led to an increase in the number of patients seeking suboxone, a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone that is used to treat opiate addiction. According to this article, only 26 percent of physicians are licensed to prescribe suboxone, and the majority of those doctors are limited to treating only 30 patients a year. But access isn’t the only issue: some physicians charge massive fees, deny insurance, or accept only cash, so depending on the severity of the individual’s addiction and black market resources, buying suboxone on the streets can be much cheaper than from a doctor, the article says.

Another article discusses how the social stigma of addiction has helped create a thriving black market for suboxone —one that poses real dangers for addicts trying to stay clean.

Meanwhile, there is controversy over whether suboxone is all it’s cracked up to be, with critics saying the drug is causing its own epidemic of addiction.

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Drug czar endorses naloxone to curb overdose deaths

White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske is calling for increased action to prevent drug overdose deaths, specifically through wider distribution of the life-saving opioid overdose reverser naloxone. Speaking Wednesday at a North Carolina overdose-prevention program, Kerlikowske expressed support for broadening access to naloxone, noting that the odds of surviving an overdose depend on how quickly the victim receives treatment, according to this article.

The state’s drug overdose prevention program – which also includes physician and patient training – has reduced overdose deaths by 69% in two years, according to community leaders.

Although opiate overdoses are on the rise, many people still don’t know about naloxone, which literally reverses the dangerous effects of taking too much OxyContin or heroin by counteracting the depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system.

Earlier this year, the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that seeks to advance policies that reduce the harms of both drug use and drug prohibition, said in a policy brief that naloxone’s status as a prescription drug is one of the key barriers to broader access. And due to its status as a generic medication, producing it does not yield substantial profits, so many pharmaceutical companies are unwilling to manufacture it, the organization noted.

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In Calif., rise in young painkiller abusers leads to more heroin overdoses

Today, Oxy Watchdog founder Erin Marie Daly has a report produced with the California Report, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting, on the rising prescription drug epidemic in California. While few hard statistics are available on the number of people moving from prescription drugs to cheaper heroin in the state, interviews with drug treatment experts and public health officials suggest a marked increase in heroin use that is accompanying the steady and dramatic rise in prescription opioid abuse among young people, the article says.

The report includes two radio stories produced with KQED, San Francisco Bay Area’s National Public Radio station, as well as an audio slideshow.

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‘Tamper-proof’ Oxy has curbed abuse, but at what price?

Purdue Pharma has long claimed that its reformulated version of OxyContin, OP, is safer because it is “abuse-resistant” – although critics have pointed out that many opioid-addicted people simply swallow the pills whole. (Addicts are also already finding their way around allegedly tamper-proof versions.)

Now, the company has come out with a series of new studies which found – unsurprisingly – that the reformulated version of the painkiller has appeared to reduce abuse of the product. The studies, which were presented at the annual meeting of the American Pain Society, found that after reformulated OxyContin was introduced, there was a 49% reduction in the number of individuals abusing OxyContin among prescription opioid abusers. Within this population, the number of people who abused OxyContin orally declined by 30% and abuse by injection and snorting of the drug declined by 73%, Purdue said.

What the studies didn’t note was that ramifications of the reformulation include addicts turning to other painkillers like Opana and an increase in heroin addiction, according to a letter published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine. 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.

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Doctors struggle to balance pain treatment with painkiller abuse

Authorities in some areas where prescription drug addiction is rife have recently been cracking down on unscrupulous doctors who inappropriately prescribe painkillers. But there are other doctors who are struggling in a different way: they are being faced with the tough task of walking the line between treating pain and furthering addiction. One resident in the Department of Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts describes her experiences here, noting that while prescribing narcotics to alleviate physical suffering is undoubtedly appropriate in some cases, “the proper use of narcotics is less clear when managing those with chronic pain syndromes who often have a long history of prescription pain medication use.” And in this recent article, the chair of the AMA Board of Trustees argues that various statutes and regulations implemented by some states to curb the epidemic “go so far as to nearly criminalize the practice of medicine.”

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Fla. goes after dirty doctors, but some say it’s not enough

In Florida, where prescription drug addiction is rife, authorities are trying to crack down on unscrupulous doctors who inappropriately prescribe painkillers after implementing legislation targeting “pill mills” last year. But according to some critics, these efforts come too little, too late. This article in the Orlando Sentinel discusses how one such doctor, Riyaz Jummani, may ultimately face only six months at the Orange County Work Release Center if a judge approves a sweetheart plea deal the Office of Statewide Prosecution will recommend.

Meanwhile, dozens of pill mill suspects have been arrested in the state, including the George brothers, who were recently sentenced to 15 and 17 years in jail for running the largest illegal pain clinic network in the country, raking in $40 million in two years.

In Florida, the death rate from oxycodone increased 265% from 2003 to 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Read more about Florida’s struggles with prescription drug addiction here.

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Calif. county requires drug cos. to pay for painkiller disposal

On July 24, government officials in Alameda County, Calif. passed an ordinance requiring pharmaceutical companies to pay for prescription drug take-back programs in the county, marking the first legislation of its kind in the nation.

Alameda County currently has 28 medication collection sites which dispose of discarded drugs at a cost of $40,000 per year. Of the annual $186 million in profits generated by drug companies in Alameda County, officials say the projected cost of a comprehensive program producer-funded program would be about 1 cent for every $33 of pharmaceuticals sold in the county.

The legislation was opposed by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, which says there is no evidence that take-back programs help the environment and that the ordinance unfairly places the costs of drug disposal only on out-of-county manufacturers.

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OxyContin Activists: Abby Beaulieu

“OxyContin Activists” are regular people who are fighting back against the painkiller and heroin epidemic.

Abby Beaulieu, 26, has a great life: she lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. with her husband and four-year-old son. But just six years ago, she was hopelessly addicted to OxyContin. Now, she’s on a mission to spread the word about the dangers of prescription drug addiction. Through her blog, My Life. My Story., she aims to break down the stigma surrounding painkiller addiction and show that it really can happen to anyone. Oxy Watchdog caught up with Beaulieu to learn more about her story and what she hopes to accomplish with her blog.

Watchdog: Tell us about the path that led you to OxyContin. When and how did you fall into your addiction?

AB: My father is an alcoholic, and at age 11 my parents got a divorce. At age 13, my father was alone dealing with his addiction, and I felt the need to go be with him. I get serious anxiety when I feel somebody is feeling lonely, or is lonely. I thought that if I was with him and he wasn’t alone, he would not drink. That was not the case. At 13, I became the adult, while he was the child, picking up beer cans and liquor bottles, not going to school for fear what I would come home to, helping him detox when his binges were over. At 16, I met a guy who was abusive in every aspect. He was over 21, so I started enabling my father and buying him alcohol because in return he would write me a check for over $300, not knowing he was fueling my addiction as well: I had started smoking pot at 12.

Prior to meeting my boyfriend, he had been a serious car accident and broke both of his feet. His doctors had him on pain pills for a year and a half and cut him off rather than weaning him off, so he was deeply addicted. A couple days after we met, he introduced me to Roxicodone and I snorted my first pill. The next pill I snorted was OxyContin. When I first started using Oxy I was doing two 40-milligram pills a day, which gradually lead to me shooting about three 80-mg pills a day. After not feeling the effects the way I wanted to, I started shooting them up because the high was better. My using was so much deeper than the addiction: it was the everyday pain that numbed me from feeling, numbed me from worrying about my father and the betrayal I put my mother through. My father (with whom I have no communication today) was clueless to the fact that I was using, even though I weighed 85 pounds soaking wet, until the day I called him to give me a ride to rehab. He did not take me.

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