Monthly Archives: November 2012

Kentucky, Pennsylvania see rise in heroin abuse

The nationwide spike in heroin abuse in the wake of the painkiller addiction epidemic reared its head in two more areas this week. Law enforcement officials in Kentucky are reporting a dramatic rise in the number of arrests and seizures related to heroin, according to this article. Kentucky State Police submitted 451 suspected heroin samples to its lab in 2010; by 2011, that number had increased to 749, and through September 2012, state police had submitted 1,074 cases to the lab, the article notes. And in Pennsylvania, heroin-related deaths in Allegheny County increased from 62 in 2008 to 95 in 2011, this article says.

Painkiller addicts across the nation are 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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Canada OKs generic Oxy that isn’t abuse-resistant

The Canadian government has given the stamp of approval to six generic versions of the widely abused painkiller OxyContin, despite urgings from some of the country’s leading pain doctors and researchers to hold off, according to this article.

The green light from Health Canada came just after the expiration of the patent held by Purdue Pharma for its long-acting formulation of oxycodone, the active ingredient in OxyContin, the article says.

OxyContin in Canada was phased out earlier this year by Purdue and replaced by an abuse-resistant version known as OxyNEO. But the newly-approved generics will use the same older formulation in the now discontinued Oxy-Contin, the article notes.

Canadians are the second-largest consumers of prescription narcotics and other controlled substances per capita in the world, according to the International Narcotics Control Board.

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Doctors hold some blame for pill addiction: editorial

Here’s an interesting editorial by two doctors weighing in on the recent debate over the extent to which doctors’ prescriptions are contributing to the alarming surge of drug overdose deaths across the nation. They note that while many legitimate pain patients are rightly given opioid prescriptions, their pain often persists — possibly from hyperalgesia, a hypersensitivity to new pain caused by those very opioid prescriptions. Between tolerance and hyperalgesia, they say, patients often need escalating doses of opioids just to feel pain-free, increasing the chances of overdose. In their opinion, “conscientious and well-trained doctors are partly to blame for the rapidly rising death rate among Americans from prescription pills.”

Physicians’ prescribing practices have recently come under fire in California, where an investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that a small group of doctors four southern California counties had written prescriptions for a number of patients who later overdosed and died. Reporters identified a total of 3,733 deaths from prescription drugs from 2006 through 2011 in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura and San Diego counties. In 1,762 of those cases — 47% — drugs for which the deceased had a prescription were the sole cause or a contributing cause of death, reporters found.

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Southwest Va. suffers from rise in drug OD deaths

The rate of drug overdose deaths in Southwest Virginia is now nearly triple the statewide average, according to this article. An estimated 270 Southwest Virginia residents died from drug overdoses last year, more than three times the overdose rate in the late 1990s at the beginning of the prescription narcotic abuse epidemic, the article says.

Overdoses became the number one cause of death for Virginia residents aged 35 to 54 from 2004 to 2009, according to the Virginia Department of Health. Overdoses were also the second leading cause of death for residents age 25 to 34 and the third leading cause of death for those age 15 to 24 and 55 to 64.

Nationwide, of the 36,450 overdose deaths in the United States in 2008, 20,044 involved a prescription drug, more than all illicit drugs combined, according to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

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FDA urged to block generic non-tamper-proof pills

Painkillers without added safety features are expected to flood back into communities in the coming weeks unless the U.S. Food and Drug Administration takes preventive action, according to a national organization dedicated to reducing prescription drug abuse. Many popularly abused prescription painkillers, including OxyContin, have been reformulated in recent years to allegedly make them abuse-resistant. But many generic manufacturers are vying to bring their own versions of such drugs to market that don’t include tamper-proof properties. The FDA could allow these generic versions of the old formulations of the drugs to return to the market as early as January 2013, CLAAD says.

Earlier this month, CLAAD and nine other public health and safety organizations sent a letter to the FDA urging the agency to prevent the marketing of generic versions of the drugs that lack abuse-deterrent features.

The reformulation of OxyContin has prompted painkiller addicts across the country to switch to other opiates as well as heroin, recent research has shown.

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Surge in Calif. overdose deaths linked to doctors’ prescriptions

Doctors’ prescriptions are contributing to an alarming surge of drug overdose deaths in four southern California counties, according to an investigation by the Los Angeles Times. Reporters identified a total of 3,733 deaths from prescription drugs from 2006 through 2011 in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura and San Diego counties. In 1,762 of those cases — 47% — drugs for which the deceased had a prescription were the sole cause or a contributing cause of death, reporters found.

Disturbingly, a group of 71 doctors wrote prescriptions for drugs that caused or contributed to 298 of those deaths: 17% of the total linked to doctors’ prescriptions, the Times says. But of those doctors, only four have been convicted of drug offenses in connection with their prescriptions. A fifth is awaiting trial on charges of second-degree murder in the overdose deaths of three patients – but the rest have never faced criminal prosecution over their practice of medicine, according to the Times.

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Indiana, Ohio drug tracking databases show promise

Nearly every state – all but Missouri – have databases that track commonly abused prescription drugs, but many are technologically deficient, and their usefulness varies. But two states, Indiana and Ohio, have launched pilot programs that may change the face of prescription drug monitoring, according to this article.

In Indiana, officials are using a health system with electronic health records in place, so whenever a patient is admitted to, discharged or transferred from the emergency room, that order will trigger the Indiana Scheduled Prescription Electronic Collection and Tracking program (INSPECT) to upload information about the patient’s drug history to the records system, the article says.

And in Ohio, patients are given a numeric score using a software program that indicates their risk of abuse. If the score is over a certain threshold, the provider receives an alert, the article says.

Separately, local health officials in southern Ohio adopted a high-tech fingerprint scanning system earlier this year in a bid to curb prescription drug abuse. Under that 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. They must also use fingerprint IDs to get their prescriptions filled at certain pharmacies.

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