Monthly Archives: January 2013

N.J. mulls legislation to encourage naloxone use

In New Jersey – where overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death, exceeding traffic fatalities and gun-related deaths – legislators are considering implementing a law that would grant immunity to those who dispense and administer naloxone, a medication that counters the effects of overdoses from opiates like OxyContin and heroin. The Opioid Antidote and Overdose Prevention Act would allow medical providers to prescribe naloxone and allow people to administer the drug to overdose victims without fear of being prosecuted. It would also require that prescription recipients get information on how to prevent and recognize overdoses, as well as how to administer the medication and care for the overdose victim. Eight other states have similar laws.

Last year, New Jersey legislators floated a separate bill that would have granted immunity to those who report overdoses, but Gov. Chris Christie nixed the measure, proposing that state officials study the issue instead. The governor claimed the legislation 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.

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FDA panel backs stricter controls on Vicodin

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration may be set to reclassify hydrocodone-containing painkillers like Vicodin from Schedule III drugs to the more restrictive Schedule II, with an expert panel voting 19 to 10 in favor of the more stringent prescribing requirements. During a two-day hearing last week, the panel heard testimony from proponents who noted hydrocodone’s abuse potential (such products are currently the most-abused prescription medicine behind oxycodone), while critics argued that the move would hinder legitimate pain patients from obtaining treatment.

The FDA usually, but not always, follows the advice of its advisory panels.

The misuse of prescription painkillers was responsible for more than 475,000 emergency department visits in 2009, a number that nearly doubled in just five years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Oregon leads nation in prescription drug abuse

The latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health has found that Oregon leads the nation in abuse of prescription drugs. According to the survey, 6.37% of Oregonians 12 years and older used painkillers for a non-medical purpose in the past year. The lowest rate was found in Iowa, where 3.6% of residents were reported to have abused painkillers.

Of the ten states with the highest rates of past year non-medical use of prescription pain relievers in 2010 and 2011, seven were in the West; of the ten states with the lowest rates, four were in the Midwest, and four were in the South, the report found.

Nationally, the abuse rate of prescription painkillers was 4.6%.

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FDA mulls hydrocodone reclassification

This week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is set to conduct a two-day hearing on whether hydrocodone products such as Vicodin should be more highly regulated like other narcotics like OxyContin and morphine, this article reports. FDA researchers said in recent briefing documents that while chronic pain patients taking hydrocodone products might develop moderate or low physical dependence, they would not be expected to develop addiction, the article says. But critics say hydrocodone is potent and highly addictive, and that updating the drug’s classification could help bring the prescription drug addiction epidemic under control, according to the article.

Last year, pharmacy interest groups defeated an amendment to the FDA Safety Innovation Act that aimed to change the classification of hydrocodone-containing pain relief products from Schedule III to the more-restrictive Schedule II.

Combination hydrocodone products such as Vicodin and Norco are currently classified as Schedule III drugs, meaning that prescriptions can be written with five refills and pharmacies are not required to lock them in a safe.

The amendment to the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA) re-authorization bill would have rescheduled hydrocodone from Schedule III to Schedule II, putting hydrocodone painkillers into the same category as OxyContin and Percocet. Hydrocodone is the most-prescribed prescription drug in the U.S., with 131.2 million prescriptions written in 2010 alone.

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NYPD to use GPS ‘bait bottles’ to track illegal pill sales

The New York Police Department says it plans to use an innovative approach to combat the theft of painkillers by asking pharmacies to hide fake pill bottles fitted with GPS devices amid the legitimate supplies on their shelves, this article reports. The NYPD says the initiative was prompted by a rash of high-profile crimes associated with the thriving black market for oxycodone and other prescription drugs in recent years, including the slaying of four people on Long Island during a pharmacy holdup in 2011, the article says. Officers will ask roughly 6,000 pharmacists and 1,800 pharmacies in the New York City area to adopt use of the bottles, which can be tracked in the event of a robbery or theft.

The GPS devices will be provided by Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin – the most-abused medicine in the United States.

New York has suffered brutally at the hands of the prescription drug addiction epidemic, and experts say things have only gotten worse since the quadruple homicide at a Medford, N.Y. pharmacy in 2011. According to this article, there were 92 instances in Nassau in 2011 in which prescription opioids were linked to overdose deaths – a tally higher than either of the previous two years and more than triple the 2004 figure. Forty-five of those deaths happened after the Medford killings, the article says.

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Must-see video wrap-up

About every 19 minutes, someone dies of an accidental prescription drug overdose. To learn more about this epidemic, here’s a compilation of some recent must-see video clips.

CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta shares his special report about accidental overdose and witnessing the epidemic first-hand in Washington State:

The Denver Post follows the lives of several young heroin addicts on the streets of Denver:

Los Angeles Times reporters Scott Glover and Lisa Girion discuss their investigation into prescription drug deaths. Their research revealed that in nearly half of the accidental deaths from prescription drugs in four Southern California counties, the deceased had a doctor’s prescription for at least one drug that caused or contributed to the death.

California Watch/The Center for Investigative Reporting reports that with the steady rise of prescription drug abuse in California, young pill addicts are succumbing in increasing numbers to heroin:

“Overtaken,” a short documentary about prescription drug and heroin addiction in Orange County, Calif.:

Current TV investigates painkiller and heroin addiction in Massachusetts:

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Study touts benefits of opioid overdose reverser

Distributing the life-saving opioid overdose reverser naloxone can save one life for every 227 naloxone kits distributed, a new study has found.

Naloxone distribution to heroin users is likely to reduce overdose deaths and is cost-effective “even under markedly conservative assumptions,” said the authors of the study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. For every 20% of heroin addicts in a population treated with the drug, about 6.5% of overdose deaths could be prevented, resulting in 2,000 lives saved in a population of 200,000 heroin users, the study found.

Anywhere from 1 to 2 million Americans currently misuse heroin or prescription opioid drugs and could be in danger of an overdose. As of 2010, about 188 naloxone distribution programs exist in the U.S., and these groups have trained over 53,000 people and reported more than 10,000 overdose reversals, according to this article.

White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske recently called for increased action to prevent drug overdose deaths, specifically through wider distribution of naloxone.

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.

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Renewing the fight in the new year

Visiting my brother Pat’s grave on New Year’s Day, I wished for two things. First, for resolution, a sense of peace with Pat’s death. And second, for a sign from him that he would want me to continue the fight.

On both counts, I came away empty-handed.

As I mentioned in Oxy Watchdog’s most recent weekly newsletter (if you haven’t signed up already, you can do so by clicking the link below our video on the right), the end of 2012 saw signs of progress in the fight against prescription drug addiction. But the battle is far from over. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the feeling that all of this is just a drop in the bucket – that even with the wonderful efforts of advocacy organizations like the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse and Advocates for the Reform of Prescription Opioids (to mention just two) and stellar investigative reporting from major media outlets like the Los Angeles Times and CNN, the addiction and deaths continue to mount. On average, one person dies every 19 minutes from an accidental prescription drug overdose, and heroin abuse is on the rise.

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