Monthly Archives: February 2013

In Fla., pill mill crackdown falling short: Miami Herald

medcabinetFlorida’s battle against its massive prescription drug epidemic has been ongoing for years, with state officials taking a number of measures to combat abuse. But despite these efforts, it seems the fight is far from over, according to this recent article in the Miami Herald. Although many of the so-called “pill mills” seem to have shifted to the more permissive regulatory environment in nearby Georgia, some operators have switched to weight-loss or anti-aging clinics, where they continue to sell profitable pharmaceuticals right on the premises, the article notes.

Florida’s much-anticipated prescription drug monitoring database had been touted as a great triumph in the state’s fight. 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.

Posted in Informational, Trends | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Painkillers drive up drug OD deaths for 11th straight year

pillsoverdoseDrug overdose deaths increased for the 11th consecutive year in 2010, and most of those deaths were accidents involving addictive painkillers, according to new federal data. In 2010, there were 38,329 drug overdose deaths nationwide, and medicines – mostly prescription drugs – were involved in nearly 60 percent of overdose deaths, surpassing deaths from illicit narcotics, according to a study by the CDC published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Opioid drugs such as OxyContin and Vicodin were the biggest problem, contributing to 3 out of 4 medication overdose deaths.

Last month, the FDA began considering whether more controls need to be placed on opioid prescribing. The agency is also considering reclassifying hydrocodone-containing painkillers like Vicodin from Schedule III drugs to the more restrictive Schedule II.

Posted in Informational, Surveys & Statistics, Trends | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CVS pays $650K to fund painkiller abuse education

pharmacyCVS-Caremark will shell out $650,000 to help New Jersey authorities establish an education and enforcement campaign on prescription drug safety and abuse, a payment that settles charges that the drug store chain co-mingled prescription pills in several of its pharmacies in the state.

The payment will help fund a public education campaign that will remind consumers to check their medication, learn about it through available resources and, whenever they have questions about the medication, to ask their pharmacist or physician. It will also address the dangers of prescription drug abuse, according to this report.

This isn’t the first tangle CVS has had with officials over prescription drugs. Last year, the DEA revoked the controlled substances licenses for two CVS pharmacies in Sanford, Fla. after accusing them of dispensing excessive amounts of oxycodone.

Posted in Crime, Informational, Pharmaceutical Industry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Costco pharmacist claims he was fired for whistleblowing: ABC

pillsscatteredA former Costco pharmacy technician is suing the retail giant, claiming he was fired after raising concerns and contacting law enforcement about doctors he believed were over-prescribing powerful painkillers, ABC Los Angeles reports. Shad Thomas says he red-flagged seven local doctors over the years – including Dr. Lisa Tseng, the Rowland Heights former physician now awaiting trial on three counts of second-degree murder for the overdose deaths of three patients, and another who he claims prescribed 7,000 oxycodone to a single patient in one year. Costco has a bonus program for pharmacy managers that is partly based on sales, incentivizing managers to allow addicted patients to continue filling massive scripts, according to ABC News.

See more of ABC News’ reporting on painkiller abuse in southern California here.

Posted in Crime, Informational, Pharmaceutical Industry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Calif. medical board probing doc tied to 16 OD deaths: LAT

RXThe Los Angeles Times continues its investigative series on prescription drug addiction, this time turning the spotlight on a prominent Orange County physician who has allegedly been tied to 16 fatal overdoses. The paper, which had earlier reported on Dr. Van Vu – a pain management specialist in Huntington Beach – as part of its series, says the state medical board has now opened an investigation of its own concerning the physician.

The LA Times recently issued a 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.

Posted in Crime, Informational | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

FDA mulls stronger controls on opioid prescribing

PillsLast week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration held a two-day hearing to determine if more controls need to be placed on opioid prescribing. The hearing was the result of a citizen’s petition filed by the Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP) and other advocates.

The petition asks the FDA to change the indication on opioid analgesics like OxyContin from “moderate to severe pain” to “severe pain” and to include a suggested duration of 90 days of continuous use. Current labels on opioid analgesics simply indicate that opioids are to be used for “moderate to severe pain,” without further qualification.

The FDA is still taking comments before it makes its decision regarding this issue, and you can let it know what your views are here.

To hear impact statements from those who testified at the meeting, go here.

Separately, the FDA is considering reclassifying hydrocodone-containing painkillers like Vicodin from Schedule III drugs to the more restrictive Schedule II. In January, an expert panel advising the FDA voted 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.

Posted in Informational, Pharmaceutical Industry, Policy & Regulation, Trends | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pill abuse in the military on the rise: report

soldier drugsPrescription drug abuse has skyrocketed among American soldiers in recent years. Over the past decade, the military has spent $1.6 billion on painkillers such as OxyContin and hydrocodone, while $2.7 billion has been spent on anti-depressants and more than $507 million on sleep medications such as Ambien, according to this article. In addition, military physicians writing pain reliever prescriptions to military members quadrupled from 2001 to 2009, nearly 3.8 million, the article notes.

The article cites a government report last year that called for measures to address the problem, including training healthcare providers to better recognize and screen for substance use problems and refer patients to appropriate, evidence-based treatment. There are many obstacles that still need to be overcome, that report noted, including a lack of available services, inadequate insurance coverage for effective outpatient treatments, and a cultural climate in which drug problems are stigmatized and evoke fear in people suffering from them.

Posted in Informational, Trends | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stricter doctor monitoring laws needed: consumer group

pills and pill bottlesConsumer Watchdog, a consumer advocacy group, is urging California lawmakers to hold hearings and investigate strong new laws in response to recent Los Angeles Times reports on widespread drug overdoses due to physician over-prescribing. In a letter sent to Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday, the group cited a disciplinary system that “caters to the interests of physicians and their political might, while refusing to answer to patients’ needs for greater transparency and accountability.”

The group also asked legislative leaders to consider random drug testing of physicians, citing a recent report about the medical board agreeing to restore the license of a West Hollywood psychiatrist who pleaded guilty to felony drug dealing and admitted to using methamphetamine.

Posted in Informational, Pharmaceutical Industry, Policy & Regulation, Trends | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Doctors over-prescribing ADHD meds: NYT

bunchofpillsThe New York Times has a devastating story about a family who lost their 24-year-old son to suicide after he became addicted to the prescription drug Adderall. The story calls into question doctors who skip established diagnostic procedures, renew prescriptions reflexively and spend too little time with patients to accurately monitor side effects, noting that highly-addictive medications like Adderall provide a tunnel-like focus that has led growing numbers of teenagers and young adults to fake symptoms to obtain steady prescriptions.

Nearly 14 million monthly prescriptions for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, were written for Americans ages 20 to 39 in 2011, two and a half times the 5.6 million just four years before, the article says.

Separately, a new study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry revealed a significantly higher prevalence of substance abuse and cigarette use by adolescents with ADHD, according to this article.

Posted in Informational, Pharmaceutical Industry, Trends | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Chicago officials dub heroin ‘a suburban epidemic’

heroinfoilThe Chicago area has long had a problem with prescription drug abuse, and recently it’s been battling the latest incarnation of the painkiller addiction trend: heroin. The Chicago Tribune reports that heroin is no longer an inner-city issue, noting that more people die from overdose deaths than car accidents in Illinois and that it costs state taxpayers around $225 million a year to incarcerate drug offenders.

Separately last July, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that a more powerful version of heroin had made its way into the Chicago suburbs. As in other areas of the country, kids who are hooked on prescription drugs like OxyContin are turning to heroin because it’s cheaper and provides a similar high. Because of the heightened potency of today’s heroin, users need not inject the drug, but instead can smoke or snort it – making it more attractive to those who might otherwise be turned off by the fear of dirty needles.

And according to CBS Chicago, the Eisenhower Expressway has been dubbed the Heroin Highway – a drive where suburban kids can easily score the drug.

Posted in Informational, Trends | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment