Monthly Archives: December 2012

Tenn. tops charts for pill sales, overdose deaths

Tennessee is ranked in the top one percent of states that sell prescription painkillers, and is also in the nation’s top ten for overdose deaths, according to this article. Since the state’s establishment of a prescription drug monitoring database in 2004, 1,059 Tennesseans died of prescription drug overdoses, the article says. Unintentional drug overdose is now the leading cause of death in Tennessee, exceeding death rates for motor vehicle crashes, homicides and suicides.

Meanwhile, doctors in Tennessee prescribed 17 retail pain prescriptions per capita in 2009, versus the national average of 12, the article notes. In fact, one of the state’s doctors wrote more than five million prescriptions for opiates like oxycodone among 3,600 patients in 2011.

Read more about prescription drug addiction in Tennessee here.

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Rogue pharmacies recklessly distributing pills: LAT

In the latest installment of the Los Angeles Times’ investigative series on prescription drug addiction, the spotlight turns to rogue pharmacies that provide massive amounts of painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs to addicts and dealers.

Pharmacists are required by law to scrutinize prescriptions and refuse to dispense a drug when they suspect the patient has no medical need for it, the report notes, but are key enablers of drug abuse and an important source of supply for the illegal market. The California Board of Pharmacy is struggling to police the industry and initiate disciplinary action against corrupt pharmacists, but they are overwhelmed: California’s 42,000 pharmacists filled 318 million prescriptions last year, the article says.

The LA Times recently issued another report finding that the California Medical Board has repeatedly failed to protect patients from reckless prescribing by doctors: it rarely tries to suspend the prescribing privileges of doctors under investigation, and even when it imposes sanctions, in most cases it allows doctors to continue practicing and prescribing. The Times’ examination of board records and county coroners’ files from 2005 through 2011 found that eight doctors disciplined for excessive prescribing later had patients die of overdoses or related causes; prescriptions those doctors wrote caused or contributed to 19 deaths.

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FDA panel says no to pumped-up Vicodin

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel has voted against the agency approving Zogenix Inc.’s Zohydro painkiller, a new version of pure, extended-release hydrocodone that is said to be 10 times more powerful than Vicodin. In an 11-2 vote, the advisory panel said Zogenix had met FDA standards for safety and efficacy, but cited concerns about the danger of addiction posed by the opioid drug class, according to this article.

The FDA could still approve the drug for sale in the United States by imposing restrictions to protect public safety, though it usually follows the advice of its advisory panels when deciding whether to approve new medicines. Agency officials will consider the committee’s recommendation in deciding by March 1 whether to give Zohydro the green light, the article says.

San Diego-based Zogenix Inc.’s bid for FDA approval to begin marketing Zohydro has prompted some activists to appeal to the agency not to rubber-stamp more opioid drugs in the midst of an out-of-control epidemic. Proponents of extended-release versions of opioids – such as Purdue Pharma’s recently reformulated OxyContin, OP – claim the drugs are safer because they are “abuse-resistant,” but others point out that many opioid-addicted people simply swallow the pills whole. (Addicts are also already finding their way around allegedly tamper-proof versions.)

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Pill addiction treatment admissions up by 569%: report

A new government report has found that treatment admissions for people addicted to both benzodiazepines and narcotic pain relievers jumped 569.7% between 2000 and 2010. According to the report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), overall substance abuse treatment admissions increased 4% during the same time period.

In 2010, 33,701 people received treatment for addiction to both medications, according to the report. Nearly 40% of those with this combined addiction began using both drugs in the same year, while about 34% first became addicted to narcotic pain relievers and 27% started with benzodiazepines.

In addition, almost half of patients treated for the combined addiction also had a psychiatric disorder, and people ages 18 to 34 represented 66.9% of those treated, the report found.

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Calif. medical board failed to police reckless doctors: LAT

The Los Angeles Times continues its investigative series on prescription drug addiction with this report on two doctors who inappropriately prescribed painkillers, leading multiple patients to overdose and die – raising questions about the adequacy of the state’s medical board.

According to the newspaper, the California Medical Board has repeatedly failed to protect patients from reckless prescribing by doctors: it rarely tries to suspend the prescribing privileges of doctors under investigation, and even when it imposes sanctions, in most cases it allows doctors to continue practicing and prescribing. The Times’ examination of board records and county coroners’ files from 2005 through 2011 found that eight doctors disciplined for excessive prescribing later had patients die of overdoses or related causes; prescriptions those doctors wrote caused or contributed to 19 deaths.

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Fatal heroin overdoses spike in Maryland

Officials in Maryland are dealing with an alarming uptick in heroin overdoses and are concerned that the trend may be an unintended consequence of state efforts to crack down on prescription drug addiction, according to this article. Fatal heroin overdoses across the state rose by 41% this year, while cases involving prescription drugs fell by 15%, the article notes.

Maryland is the latest state to see an increase in heroin abuse in the wake of the painkiller addiction epidemic. Last month, law enforcement officials in Kentucky reported a dramatic rise in the number of arrests and seizures related to heroin. 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. And in Pennsylvania, it was reported that heroin-related deaths in Allegheny County increased from 62 in 2008 to 95 in 2011.

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U.S. drug officials fear flood of generic Oxy

U.S. drug officials are warning police and border guards to be on the lookout for Canadian generic versions of the widely abused painkiller OxyContin after the Canadian government gave the stamp of approval to six generic versions of the drug. According to this article, the warnings have come from U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske and Montana’s attorney general Steve Bullock, and the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy has issued a notice stating that “the potential exists for diversion into the United States because the old formulations, which are easier to abuse, are unavailable in the United States.”

Health Canada opened the door for generic versions of OxyContin in November following the expiration of the patent held by Purdue Pharma for its long-acting formulation of oxycodone, the active ingredient in OxyContin. The move came despite urgings from some of the country’s leading pain doctors and researchers to hold off, according to this article.

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.

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