Monthly Archives: April 2014

Heroin deaths triple in W. Va.

fentanylThe number of West Virginians who have died from heroin-related overdoses has tripled over the past five years, jumping from 22 in 2007 to 67 in 2012, according to this article. Meanwhile, fatalities caused by prescription pain pills have declined for the first time since 2009, the article says, citing the latest available figures from the West Virginia Health Statistics Center.

Berkeley County had the highest number of heroin overdose deaths, with 36 residents dying between 2007 and 2012; Cabell County had the second-highest number of heroin-related overdose deaths, with 26, followed by Monongalia County, with 15 over the past five years; and Kanawha County ranked fourth with 13, according to the article.

West Virginia has the highest drug overdose rate in the country. Between 1999 and 2004, there was a 550% increase in drug overdose deaths in the state, and drug overdose is the leading cause of death for West Virginians under 45 years old.

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Judge nixes Zohydro ban in Mass.

gavelA federal judge has struck down Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s ban on the controversial new form of hydrocodone, Zohydro, saying the state lacked the authority to override the FDA’s approval of the painkiller. U.S. District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel noted that the FDA approved Zohydro after a screening process, and said the federal regulatory agency has more power than the state in this case, according to this article. She also said Massachusetts lacked the authority to force Zohydro’s maker, Zogenix, to make an abuse-resistant form of the drug because that formulation has not been approved by the FDA, the article says.

Gov. Patrick issued the Zohydro ban last month, declaring a public health emergency in response to the state’s growing opioid addiction epidemic and taking a number of other steps to curb overdoses and help the addicted. In a press release, the governor said the use of oxycodone and other narcotic painkillers, often as a route to heroin addiction, has been on the rise for the last few years in Massachusetts; at least 140 people have died from suspected heroin overdoses in communities across the state in the last several months, levels previously unseen. From 2000 to 2012, the number of unintentional opiate overdoses increased by 90 percent, he added.

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Tenn. mulls criminal charges for prenatal drug use

CSL2028Tennessee lawmakers have given the green light to a bill that would allow criminal assault charges to be filed against women whose infants suffer harm from their mothers’ prenatal drug abuse. The measure, which would allow prosecutors to press assault charges on women if an infant’s “addiction or harm is a result of her illegal use of a narcotic drug taken while pregnant,” has been sent to Gov. Bill Haslam for approval, according to this article.

Driven by the prescription drug addiction epidemic, Tennessee is seeing a dramatic rise in the number of newborns born with neonatal abstinence syndrome. In just slightly more than nine months last year, more babies in the state were born dependent on drugs their mothers took during pregnancy than in all of 2011, according to this article. By the first week of October 2013, 643 babies were born dependent, compared with 629 for all of 2011. The majority of these births involved a mother taking medicine prescribed by a health care provider.

Neonatal abstinence syndrome is a group of problems that occur in a newborn who was exposed to addictive illegal or prescription drugs while in the mother’s womb. Symptoms include excessive crying, seizures, vomiting, fever, and slow weight gain. Some NAS babies may need to receive fluids intravenously; others with more severe symptoms may require medicine to treat withdrawal.

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Pill and heroin deaths surge across the nation

pillsoverdoseDespite increased media coverage and efforts to crack down on abuse, overdose deaths due to prescription drugs and heroin continue to happen at alarming rates in many states.

In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick recently declared a public health emergency due to the sharp increase in heroin overdoses and opioid addiction, with many addicts shifting from more expensive and harder-to-get pills to heroin, which is cheaper and widely available. Massachusetts state police say 185 people died from suspected heroin overdoses between November and February, a figure that does not include overdose deaths in the state’s three largest cities; the number of all opioid-related deaths increased from 363 in 2000 to 642 in 2011.

In Oklahoma, unintentional prescription drug overdoses claimed the lives of 534 residents in 2012; state health authorities say about half of them had taken drugs prescribed by their own doctors, according to this article.

In Iowa, the number of heroin overdose deaths rose 700 percent from 2003 to 2012, from one death to eight, according to this article.

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FDA OKs new overdose antidote treatment

naloxone-hcl-narcanThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a prescription treatment that can be used by family members or caregivers to treat a person known or suspected to have had an opioid overdose. The hand-held device, known as Evzio, rapidly delivers a single dose of the drug naloxone and can be carried in a pocket or stored in a medicine cabinet, according to the agency. Naloxone is a medication that rapidly reverses the effects of opioid overdose and is the standard treatment for such situations, but until now it has been available mostly in hospitals and other medical settings.

Evzio is injected into the muscle (intramuscular) or under the skin (subcutaneous), the FDA said. Once turned on, the device provides verbal instruction to the user describing how to deliver the medication.

Drug overdose deaths, driven largely by prescription drug overdose deaths, are now the leading cause of injury death in the United States – surpassing motor vehicle crashes. In 2013, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the number of drug overdose deaths had steadily increased for more than a decade.

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For many heroin addicts, treatment barriers remain

heroinspoonThe rise in heroin addiction across the nation, fueled by the prescription drug addiction epidemic, means that increasing numbers of people are in need of inpatient treatment services — but many who need help are contending with a shortage of services and constraints placed on care by insurance companies, according to this article.

Unlike withdrawal from dependencies on alcohol or benzodiazepines, heroin withdrawal isn’t life-threatening – but it is so horrific that many addicts are drawn back to the drug and overdose, the article notes. Because withdrawal is not directly deadly, most insurance companies won’t pay for inpatient rehab, either claiming that the addict does not meet the “criteria for medical necessity” — that inpatient care would be an inappropriate treatment — or requiring that the user first try outpatient rehab, the article says.

Of the 23.1 million Americans who needed treatment for drugs or alcohol in 2012, only 2.5 million people received care at a specialty facility, the article says, citing data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The number of people reporting heroin use in the previous year increased between 2007 and 2012, from 373,000 to 669,000, while nearly 80 percent of people who had used heroin in 2011 had also previously abused prescription painkillers classified as opioids.

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