Monthly Archives: October 2012

Texas lawmakers hear testimony on growing pill abuse problem

Texas medical professionals and law enforcement officials are seeking to address the state’s prescription drug addiction problem, telling lawmakers at a Senate hearing that agencies need to collaborate in order to more effectively identify pharmacies and doctors involved in the usage of prescription drugs outside of medically sanctioned purposes, according to this article.

Deaths from accidental overdoses increased in Texas by more than 150 percent from 1999 to 2007, largely due to the rising tide of opiate prescriptions, the article says.

In 2011, the Texas legislature made doctor shopping a felony, and several months ago, the Texas Department of Public Safety launched an online database of prescription drug data, the article notes.

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‘Good Samaritan’ bill nixed in N.J.

In New Jersey, where prescription drug addiction is a huge problem, advocates of drug overdose victims are criticizing Gov. Chris Christie’s rejection of a Good Samaritan bill. The governor claimed the measure was too narrowly focused on encouraging more reporting of drug overdoses, rather than other aspects such as drug abuse deterrence, violence prevention and public safety.

Good Samaritan laws aim to reduce overdose deaths by protecting people who call for medical help for overdose victims from being prosecuted for personal possession of drugs, paraphernalia or underage drinking. Even though opiate overdoses are on the rise, many people don’t call 911 out of fear of arrest and prosecution, and instead rely on ineffective methods of reviving victims. Nine states – New York, Illinois, Washington State, New Mexico, Colorado, Florida, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut – have already enacted such laws, and similar measures are currently pending in several others.

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Teen painkiller abuse up by 40%: study

The rate of prescription painkiller abuse among American youth is 40 percent higher than in previous generations, and is now the second most common type of illegal drug use after marijuana, according to a new study.

The study, which was published Oct. 16 in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that prescription painkiller abuse led to a 129 percent increase in emergency department visits between 2004 and 2009, as well as a more than 500 percent increase in the number of people seeking treatment for addiction to prescription opioids between 1997 and 2007. There was also a threefold increase in accidental overdose deaths between the 1990s and 2007, according to the study.

The study comes a month after a separate survey found that while the number of young adults who reported using prescription drugs for non-medical purposes in the last month decreased slightly from 2 million to 1.7 million, pill abuse among children ages 12 to 17 and among adults 26 and older remained unchanged – and the number of people who reported heroin use in the past year rose from 373,000 in 2007 to 620,000 in 2011.

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Drug dealer hit with 21-year sentence for heroin death

A federal judge has sentenced a one of three Massachusetts men charged with selling heroin that killed a woman in 2009 to 21 years in prison. The 29-year-old man had pleaded guilty earlier this year to participating in a heroin distribution conspiracy, according to the U.S. Department of Justice in Boston.

Since it is usually difficult to determine where a person obtained a drug after they die of an overdose, suspects are rarely charged with selling a drug that caused someone’s death. This case may signify that authorities are becoming more willing to pursue such charges. In a similar case in Wisconsin, two men who provided heroin that killed a 20-year-old woman are each facing more than 40 years in prison if they are convicted of first-degree reckless homicide. And in the realm of prescription drugs, Florida resident Jeff George pleaded guilty last year 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, who were accused of running the largest illegal pain clinic network in the country, were eventually sentenced to 15 and 17 years in prison.

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Opana follows in Oxy’s wake, with deadly results

Purdue Pharma‘s reformulation of OxyContin was supposedly meant to curb abuse of the product, although it’s questionable how successful that attempt has been. While some have already found ways to abuse the new version, known as OP, other ramifications include more people turning to painkillers like Opana. Now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning that abusers who inject Opana into their bloodstream risk developing a serious blood disorder that could result in kidney failure or death. The blood disorder, thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, resulted in kidney failure requiring dialysis in some cases and at least one death, the agency said.

Another effect of Oxy’s reformulation has been a spike in heroin abuse, with painkiller addicts turning to the hardcore street drug when pills become too expensive or scarce, according to a letter published in July 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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Across the nation, heroin abuse spikes due to pill epidemic

The rise of prescription drug addiction has led to a corresponding increase in heroin abuse, with painkiller addicts turning to the hardcore street drug when pills become too expensive or scarce. And while the official statistics are slowly catching up to the reality, the best evidence of this trend comes from the trenches. The Denver Post has a heartbreaking new series detailing the lives of several young heroin addicts on the streets of Denver, while these recent articles examine the increase in heroin abuse in New Jersey, Maine, California, and Pennsylvania.

One huge factor behind the switch to heroin is the reformulation of OxyContin, one of the most commonly abused painkillers.

The most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that heroin use has risen to 239,000 users in 2010 from 213,000 in 2008 – likely as a result of painkiller addicts switching to the street drug.


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Few Fla. doctors using prescription monitoring system: report

Florida has been fighting its statewide prescription drug epidemic with a number of measures, including a prescription drug monitoring database. But a recent investigation by the Tampa Bay Times found that the vast majority of medical practitioners don’t even use the system, because they are not required by law to check it to see where and when their patients filled previous prescriptions, the type and quantity of drugs they got and who prescribed them.

Since the system was launched last September, more than 48 million prescriptions have been written in Florida for controlled substances — about 2.5 for every man, woman and child in the state — but prescribers checked the database before writing just 2% of them, the article says.

Meanwhile, TCPalm reports that Florida’s crackdown on painkiller abuse has had an unintended effect: some patients with documented cases of chronic pain say they are being turned away from pharmacies because of the medication they are seeking, according to this article.

The state also continues to grapple with the fallout of prescription drug addiction in its hospital delivery rooms, with a dramatic spike in children born dependant on opioids, a condition known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, this article reports.

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Web-based tool aims to educate doctors on opioids

The Office of National Drug Control Policy has launched a new web-based program aimed at helping doctors more safely and effectively prescribe prescription painkillers. The training materials are part of an initiative created to help medical professionals understand and address prescription drug abuse, the agency said.

The move comes after a recent report found that few physicians are following recommended treatment guidelines when prescribing prescription painkillers for injured workers.

Nearly one in 12 injured workers who are prescribed narcotics are still using them three to six months later, according to the report.

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Pill addiction progress in Maine prompts rise in heroin abuse

While Maine is seeing some progress in terms of curbing prescription drug abuse, substance abuse specialists in the state say there has been a sharp uptick in heroin addiction.

The trend coincides with the imposition of state-mandated limits on the use of the most effective treatment drugs, according to this article.

It also mirrors national figures: misuse of prescription drugs has dropped about 15 percent nationally since 2010, while heroin use has doubled since 2007, according to a recent report by the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

Between 2006 and 2010, the number of oxycodone prescriptions written in Maine went up by 50 percent, and the state is among those with the highest rise in prescription painkiller abuse in recent years.

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