Monthly Archives: October 2013

Prescription drugs took 700 lives in N.J. in 2011, 2012

helpPrescription drugs were implicated in the deaths of more than 700 New Jersey residents in both 2011 and 2012, according to statistics released by the state assistant state medical examiner.

The number of drug deaths in the state rose from 843 in 2010 to 1,027 in 2011 and 1,188 in 2013, according to the medical examiner. The number of deaths caused by prescription drugs alone over the three years varied from 402 in 2010 to 470 in 2011 and 460 in 2012, while the instances in which deaths were caused by a combination of prescription and illicit drugs rose from 180 in 2010 to 231 in 2011 and 262 in 2012.

Earlier this year, an investigation into prescription pill and heroin abuse in New Jersey revealed the operation of illicit medical practices run by unscrupulous entrepreneurs and corrupt physicians, some with ties to organized crime.

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FDA OKs controversial form of Vicodin

pills and pill bottlesThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Zogenix Inc.’s Zohydro painkiller, a new version of pure, extended-release hydrocodone that is said to be 10 times more powerful than Vicodin. The move comes amid criticism from those who say the FDA should not be approving any additional opioids given the current prescription drug addiction epidemic. An advisory panel last year voted against approving Zohydro, citing concerns about the danger of addiction posed by the opioid drug class.

Unlike other hydrocodone-containing drugs like Vicodin, Lortab and Norco, Zohydro is not buffered with acetaminophen or some other over-the-counter medication. The drug also lacks an abuse-deterrent feature such as the ones used in new formulations of drugs like OxyContin.

Hydrocodone is currently the second most-abused medicine in the U.S. behind oxycodone.

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FDA moves for stricter hydrocodone controls

bunchofpillsThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recommended reclassifying hydrocodone-containing painkillers like Vicodin from Schedule III drugs to the more restrictive Schedule II, a move that would bring such medications in line with opioid painkillers such as oxycodone and morphine.

In January, an expert panel advising the FDA voted 19 to 10 in favor of the more stringent prescribing requirements. Proponents of the reclassification have noted hydrocodone’s abuse potential (such products are currently the most-abused prescription medicine behind oxycodone), while critics have argued that the move would hinder legitimate pain patients from obtaining treatment.

The reclassification must be approved by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Drug Enforcement Administration, which will make a final scheduling decision.

Separately in September, the FDA announced new safety labeling changes for extended-release and long-acting opioid analgesics such as OxyContin. The updated labels must state that such medications are indicated for the management of pain severe enough to require daily, around-the-clock, long-term opioid treatment.

In addition, because of the risk of addiction and abuse “even at recommended doses,” as well as the greater risks of overdose and death, the drugs must be labeled as “reserved for use in patients for whom alternative treatment options (e.g., non-opioid analgesics or immediate-release opioids) are ineffective, not tolerated, or would be otherwise inadequate to provide sufficient management of pain,” the agency said.

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Drug-dependent newborn rate on the rise in Tenn.

babybottleDriven by the prescription drug addiction epidemic, Tennessee is seeing a dramatic rise in the number of newborns born dependent on drugs. In just slightly more than nine months this year, more babies in the state have been born dependent on drugs their mothers took during pregnancy than in all of 2011, according to this article. By the first week of October, 643 babies were born dependent, compared with 629 for all of 2011, and officials are projecting more than 800 drug dependent babies by the end of this year, the article says. The majority of these births involved a mother taking medicine prescribed by a health care provider, according to the article.

Newborns being born addicted to painkillers is yet another disturbing trend stemming from the rampant abuse of prescription drugs. Nationwide, the number of pregnant women who were dependent on or using opiates when they delivered increased from 4,839 in 2000 to 23,009 in 2009.

As a result, the incidence of babies being born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, a group of problems caused by maternal opiate use during pregnancy, has nearly tripled in the past decade. In 2009, the syndrome was diagnosed in newborns at a rate of 3.4 per 1,000 hospital births per year, up from 1.2 diagnoses per 1,000 births per year in 2000.

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