Monthly Archives: June 2013

FDA shutters rogue Internet pharmacies in massive crackdown

computerpillsFederal regulators have launched a massive crackdown on Internet pharmacies that are selling unapproved and potentially dangerous prescription medicines that could pose significant public health risks. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it has shut down 1,677 websites for selling counterfeit or substandard medication, or for selling drugs without appropriate safeguards. Regulators have also seized more than $41 million worth of illegal medicines and arrested 58 people, while a number of additional websites have received regulatory warnings, according to the FDA.

Several sites had interfaces and names that could easily be confused with legitimate pharmacy retailers, such as Walgreens-Store.com, which imitated the well-known drugstore chain’s website, which is actually Walgreens.com, the agency said.

The crackdown marks the largest Internet-based action of its kind, the agency said, adding that prescription medicines, including those purchased online, should only be used with a valid prescription and under the supervision of a licensed health care provider.

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Painkillers over-prescribed to Medicare patients: study

bunchofpillsA new study by the Department of Health and Human Services highlights a variety of problems concerning prescription medication practices among doctors and pharmacies servicing Medicare patients, including over-prescribing, over-billing, and over-medicating.

The review identified more than 2,200 doctors whose records stood out in one of five areas: prescriptions per patient, brand name drugs, painkillers and other addictive drugs or the number of pharmacies that dispensed their orders, according to this article.

More than half of 736 physicians studied wrote prescriptions for extremely high amounts of controlled substances that have the potential for addiction and abuse, the article says.

All told, the drugs ordered by the doctors labeled “extreme outliers” cost Medicare $352 million, according to the study.

In 2008, more than 36,000 people died from drug overdoses, and most of these deaths were caused by prescription drugs, according to the CDC.

Nearly three out of four prescription drug overdoses are caused by prescription painkillers. The unprecedented rise in overdose deaths in the U.S. parallels a 300% increase since 1999 in the sale of these medications, which were involved in 14,800 overdose deaths in 2008, more than cocaine and heroin combined, the CDC says.

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13% of Americans take prescription painkillers: study

pill bottlesA new study has found that 7 out of 10 Americans take at least one kind of prescription medication, and more than half take two — and 13% of them take painkillers that can be highly addictive. The study by the Mayo Clinic said that opioids, antidepressants, and antibiotics were the most commonly prescribed type of pills, and that women receive more prescriptions than men across several drug groups, especially antidepressants.

The percentage of people who took at least one prescription drug in the past month increased from 44% in 1999-2000 to 48% in 2007-08, the study found. Spending on prescription drugs reached $250 billion in 2009 the year studied, and accounted for 12% of total personal health care expenditures, and drug-related spending is expected to continue to grow in the coming years, according to the researchers.

In 2008, more than 36,000 people died from drug overdoses, and most of these deaths were caused by prescription drugs, according to the CDC.

Nearly three out of four prescription drug overdoses are caused by prescription painkillers. The unprecedented rise in overdose deaths in the U.S. parallels a 300% increase since 1999 in the sale of these medications, which were involved in 14,800 overdose deaths in 2008, more than cocaine and heroin combined, the CDC says.

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Rogue online pharmacies still fueling pill sales

computerpillsAlthough federal regulators have long had their eye on the online market for prescription pills, it is still disturbingly easy to find a rogue Internet pharmacy that will sell painkillers like codeine and hydrocodone without a prescription, according to this article. Research shows that 97% of Internet pharmacies are not operating legitimately and most of those do not require a prescription at all, the article says. Many of these pharmacies are based overseas, and will provide the medication even if customers are underage, the article says.

It is illegal to buy or sell prescription drugs without a prescription.

According to the article:

With an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 rogue Internet pharmacies in operation, law enforcement agencies face an uphill battle shutting down online pharmacies dispensing drugs without a prescription, especially when their operations cross many international jurisdictions.

Buying prescription medicine from fraudulent online pharmacies can be dangerous, or even deadly, according to the FDA. Such pharmacies are likely to be selling counterfeit medicines, which may be less effective or have unexpected side effects; in addition, online pharmacies may intentionally misuse the personal and financial information provided by customers, and sell this information to other illegal websites and Internet scams, the agency says.

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Fla. clinic to serve opiate-addicted babies

babybottleIn Florida, the prescription drug addiction epidemic has resulted in more pregnant mothers giving birth to children who are already addicted to opiates. To deal with this troubling issue, the Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Clinic at All Children’s Outpatient Care in Sarasota has begun providing a variety of free services for addicted babies from birth to 24 months of age, according to this article.

In the last two to three years, Sarasota Memorial Hospital saw an increase in drug-addicted newborns of about 700%, the article says. Statewide, seven out of 1,000 babies born in Florida have neonatal abstinence syndrome, which involves symptoms such as inconsolable crying, tremors, seizures, diarrhea and vomiting. In 2011, 1,563 newborns were diagnosed with drug exposure in Florida, according to the article.

Most NAS cases involve non-Hispanic white infants, the article adds, and nearly half of women who delivered a baby diagnosed with NAS received prenatal care in a private physician’s office.

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‘Overdose deaths are preventable:’ Narcan film


Although opiate overdoses are skyrocketing in the U.S., 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.

This powerful new short film, “Reach for Me: Fighting to End the American Drug Overdose Epidemic,” is produced by Sawbuck Productions in Association with with CinemaNOPE Pictures and examines the need for expanded access to naloxone. It makes a great argument for how Narcan can help save lives, and explains why more overdose awareness prevention is needed.

I am always amazed at how many people are unaware of Narcan and how it’s used, but I myself didn’t know about naloxone until well after my brother’s heroin overdose death in 2009. It took less than 10 minutes for me to get trained in Narcan use by the wonderful folks at the DOPE Project, a nonprofit whose mission is to reduce fatal overdose deaths by providing overdose prevention education and naloxone to drug users and their loved ones — and if you live in the Bay Area, I highly suggest contacting them to get trained.

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Deaths among young heroin users on the rise in Wash.

heroinHeroin use and related deaths have increased significantly across Washington state over the past decade — and the trend is especially prevalent among people under age 30, who are finding it cheaper and easier to get heroin than prescription opiates these days, according to this article.

The article cites a new study by the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, which found that drug treatment admissions for heroin increased statewide from 2,647 in 2002 to 7,500 in 2012. The majority of 18- to-29-year-olds seeking drug treatment for the first time in 2012 were being treated for heroin use, the study also found.

In addition, the number of accidental deaths statewide involving heroin and prescribed opiates doubled from an average of 310 a year between 2000 and 2002 and 607 a year from 2009 to 2011, according to the study.

The article notes that the data from Washington mirrors a national trend, even though the most up-to-date national research is a few years behind Washington:

A National Institutes of Health study cites numbers from 2009 that show a national rise in opiate addiction and overdoses. The authors of that study, which was published in February 2013 in the Public Library of Science journal, predicted heroin use would likely increase as a result.

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Walgreens to pay $80M over black-market Oxy sales

bunchofpillsThe U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency announced Tuesday that Walgreens has agreed to shell out $80 million to settle allegations that it allowed oxycodone and other controlled drugs to be diverted for black market sales from its Jupiter, Fla., distribution center.

The settlement, which is the largest in the DEA’s history, comes after the agency accused Walgreens last year of failing to maintain proper controls to ensure it didn’t dispense drugs to addicts and drug dealers.

According to the DEA, the Jupiter distribution center has been the single largest distributor of oxycodone products in Florida since 2009. In 2011, 16 of the top 25 largest oxycodone purchasers by Walgreens retail pharmacies, including the top six purchasers, were in Florida and supplied by the Jupiter center, the agency said.

Walgreens “committed an unprecedented number of record-keeping and dispensing violations” under the Controlled Substances Act, which is designed to prevent prescription painkillers from ending up on the streets, the DEA said.

In addition to the payout, Walgreens’ Jupiter center is banned from distributing and dispensing similar controlled substances until 2014. The deal also resolves similar investigations nationwide, including in Colorado, Michigan, and New York.

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Heroin ODs skyrocket in Twin Cities area

overdoseDue to the painkiller addiction epidemic, the Twin Cities metro area in Minnesota is experiencing a dramatic increase in heroin overdose deaths and emergency room admissions for overdoses. According to this article, there were 37 heroin-related deaths in Hennepin County last year – a more than 900% increase over the four deaths reported in 2008.

2012 is the second year in a row for a dramatic increase in heroin overdose deaths in the Twin Cities; in 2011, the number of overdose deaths more than doubled from the previous year, the article says.

Minneapolis has the highest purity level of Mexican heroin of any U.S. city, and sells the drug for the lowest prices, the article adds, citing a 2009 report by the Department of Human Services.

As we are seeing elsewhere in the nation, the painkiller addiction trend has resulted in a shocking uptick in heroin deaths.

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Vt. becomes 13th state to pass ‘Good Samaritan’ law

911 dial phone callThe governor of Vermont signed so-called “Good Samaritan” legislation on Wednesday offering protection to anyone seeking medical help in the event of a drug or alcohol overdose, making Vermont the 13th state to pass such a measure. The law extends both to people seeking assistance for themselves and for others, and seeks to prevent overdose deaths by empowering witnesses to report such episodes quickly without fear of legal repercussions, according to this article.

Drug overdoses were responsible for killing 73 people in Vermont last year, and remain the leading cause of injury death to state residents between the ages of 25 and 64, the article says.

Separately on Wednesday, the governor also gave the stamp of approval to a measure that will increase access to naloxone, a medication used to reverse opiate overdose, the article says. Under that law, doctors who prescribe naloxone to opiate-using patients and bystanders who administer the drug to an overdose victim will no longer be to subject to civil liabilities resulting from rare adverse reactions to the drug, according to the article.

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