Monthly Archives: April 2013

Awareness of ‘Good Samaritan’ laws still lacking

911 dial phone callAs of March 2013, drug overdose “Good Samaritan” laws were in effect in 10 states and the District of Columbia, and were being actively considered by at least a half-dozen state legislatures. But many people are unaware of these laws, or are still fearful of being arrested if they call for help for overdose victims, anecdotal evidence shows. For example, this article out of Chicago reports that in one county, 175 people have died of heroin overdoses since 2007. In many of those cases, the article says, the victims were surrounded by people when they overdosed, but no one called 911 for help – even though Illinois passed a Good Samaritan law last year.

Good Samaritan laws typically provide immunity from drug possession charges; immunity applies to a person who seeks medical aid during an overdose (for example, by calling 911 or taking someone to the ER), and to a person having an overdose.

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.

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Painkiller abuse among the elderly on the rise

elderly.pills.480Although prescription drug addiction is often portrayed as an issue affecting teens and young adults, America’s 78 million aging baby boomers are also experiencing the effects of the epidemic, according to this article in the New York Times. A 2011 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that among adults aged 50 to 59, the rate of current illicit drug use increased to 6.3% in 2011 from 2.7% in 2002; opiates were among the most commonly abused drugs, the article says.

Other studies have estimated that up to 10% of the elderly misuse prescription drugs with major abuse potential, most often anti-anxiety benzodiazepines like Klonopin, sleeping aids like Ambien, and opiate painkillers such as OxyContin, the article says. In addition, women far outnumber men when it comes to nonmedical use of prescription medication: 44% of women as opposed to 23% of men, according to SAMHSA.

One major generational difference seems to be that the elderly rarely use alcohol or drugs to “get high” — rather, they turn to alcohol and drugs in response to the physical and psychological pain due to medical and psychiatric illness, the loss of loved ones, or social isolation, the article notes.

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Driven by pills, U.S. death overdose rates doubled since 1999

imgname--prescription_drug_abuse_on_the_rise---38647165--images--flickr_2931207680The rate of reported drug overdoses in the U.S. more than doubled between 1999 and 2010, with about half of the additional deaths falling under the pharmaceuticals category, according to this article in Popular Science. The data, which was compiled from WONDER, the CDC National Center for Health Statistics’ multiple cause of death database, showed that nearly three-quarters of the pharmaceuticals deaths were due to opioid analgesics such as OxyContin and Vicodin.

The CDC recently found that drug overdose deaths increased for the eleventh consecutive year in 2010. According to the agency, 38,329 people died from a drug overdose in the U.S. that year, up from 37,004 deaths in 2009.

Overdose deaths involving opioid analgesics have shown a similar increase, the CDC found: starting with 4,030 deaths in 1999, the number of deaths increased to 15,597 in 2009 and 16,651 in 2010.

In 2010, nearly 60% of the drug overdose deaths (22,134) involved pharmaceutical drugs. Opioid analgesics, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone, were involved in about 3 of every 4 pharmaceutical overdose deaths (16,651), according to the CDC.

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Teen pill abuse up 33% since 2008: study

pill bottlesOne in four teens has misused or abused a prescription drug at least once in their lifetime – a 33% increase over the past five years – up from 18% in 2008, according to a new survey, The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS), by the Partnership at Drugfree.org and MetLife Foundation. That translates to about 5 million teens.

In addition, one in eight teens reported that at least once in their lifetime, they had taken the stimulants Ritalin or Adderall when those medications weren’t prescribed for them, the survey found.

Even more disturbing was the fact that almost one in four teens (23%) said their parents didn’t care as much if they were caught using prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription, as compared to getting caught with illegal drugs. And more than a quarter of teens (27%) mistakenly believed that misusing and abusing prescription drugs was safer than using street drugs, with 33% saying they believed it was “okay to use prescription drugs that were not prescribed to them to deal with an injury, illness or physical pain.”

Of those kids who said they abused prescription medications, one in five (20%) had done so before age 14, the survey found.

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Ga.’s prescription database in danger due to funding

computerpillsGeorgia’s new prescription drug monitoring database, which is set to become operational in June, may run out of the money it needs to operate soon after its implementation because lawmakers failed to appropriate any funding for the program when they passed legislation to create it in 2011, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

A two-year, $400,000 federal grant that pays startup costs for a new prescription monitoring program grant expires Sept. 30, the paper says.

In Georgia — which is among the last six states in the nation to put a prescription monitoring program in place, according to the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws — prescription drug abuse causes or contributes to the overdose deaths of 11 people every week.

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Calif. lawmakers take action on painkiller abuse: LAT

bluepillsA California Senate committee has given the stamp of approval to a package of bills aimed at reducing prescription drug abuse and overdose deaths, including a measure that would require coroners to report deaths involving prescription drugs to the Medical Board of California. The Los Angeles Times reports that the committee also signed off on a bill that would upgrade the state’s prescription drug monitoring program, known as CURES. In addition, the committee approved a measure that would make it easier for the medical board to investigate physicians suspected of overprescribing and suspend their prescribing privileges, and a bill that would prohibit pharmacies from advertising commonly abused narcotic medications, such as OxyContin and Vicodin, according to the LA Times.

Before moving to the Senate floor, all four bills must clear additional committees, the Times said.

The 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.

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FDA bans copycat versions of original Oxy amid abuse concerns

DRUG BANNEDThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday it will not approve any generic versions of OxyContin based on the powerful painkiller’s original formulation, which does not include anti-abuse features designed to make the pill harder to abuse.

According to the agency, “because original OxyContin provides the same therapeutic benefits as reformulated OxyContin, but poses an increased potential for certain types of abuse, the FDA has determined that the benefits of original OxyContin no longer outweigh its risks and that original OxyContin was withdrawn from sale for reasons of safety or effectiveness.”

OxyContin’s manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, reformulated the drug in 2010 to make it more difficult to crush, break, or dissolve; the reformulated pill forms a viscous hydrogel and cannot be easily prepared for injection. The FDA noted Tuesday that abuse of OxyContin by these routes, as well as the oral route, is still possible.

The FDA’s decision came on the same day that Purdue’s patent on the original OxyContin expired, which normally opens the door for generic drug makers to launch their own cheaper versions of a product. Now, these generic companies will have to develop their own abuse-deterrent designs, preserving Purdue’s monopoly on the OxyContin market for the time being.

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Naloxone’s rising price costing lives

naloxHospira, the sole manufacturer of opiate overdose reverser naloxone, has jacked up the price of the antidote by 1,110% since 2008, threatening the sustainability of overdose prevention programs nationwide, according to this article. Naloxone distribution programs have handed out more than 53,000 naloxone kits and report over 10,000 overdose reversals since 1996, the article notes — but in the past two years alone, almost 10% of the distribution programs have closed their doors, causing overdose deaths to start to bounce back up.

Possible solutions: the FDA could allow temporary importation of naloxone from foreign manufacturers, the federal government could lower prices by enticing new pharmaceutical companies to enter the market through a fast-track approval process, or the FDA could give the green light to naloxone for over-the-counter use so that people who need it can purchase directly from pharmacies, the article says.

Of course, Hospira could also lower the price of naloxone, which is a $20-million-a-year industry: it would cost a mere $100,000 for Hospira to supply every harm reduction program in the country with enough naloxone to meet current capacity, the article points out.

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Growing support for painkiller prescription limits: poll

RXA new study has found that 52% of respondents believe doctors should face limits in prescribing potentially addictive pain medications. The survey, conducted by advocacy coalition Research!America, identified widespread anxiety about prescription pain medications, with 85% of respondents expressing concerns that the drugs can be misused. In addition, nearly 50% described prescription drug addiction as a major U.S. health problem, while 63% said they know someone who has taken prescription medication to cope with severe pain, the study found.

Drug fatalities increased 3% in 2010, driven largely by prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin. The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that overdose deaths involving prescription painkillers rose to 16,651 in 2010, comprising 43% of all fatal overdoses.

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As Fla. pill supply dwindles, heroin sweeps East Coast

heroinfoilFlorida’s crackdown on pill mills has dried up the supply of pills to much of the East Coast, with the unintended consequence of fueling heroin abuse. As this article notes, the rise in heroin use on Cape Cod “follows a predictable course seen nationwide: when the pills disappear, heroin sweeps in.”

Between Feb. 26 and March 30, the Cape saw at least eight drug-related deaths; in the same period, police responded to another four suspected heroin overdoses in which the person was revived, the article says.

A few years ago, most cases handled by the Cape Cod Drug Task Force involved pills, but now the police estimate that as much as 95% of their caseload is heroin-related, according to the article.

The trend highlights the fallout from Florida’s efforts to turn around its reputation as the nation’s epicenter of prescription drug abuse. On the bright side, the tougher regulations resulted in the number of pill mills in the state dropping from 854 to 580 between March 2011 and March 2012, according to this article.

In that same time period, the number of inappropriate prescribers of OxyContin in Florida dropped from 98 to 11; Florida previously had the most prescribers of OxyContin in the nation, the article says.

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