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Seattle area drug-related deaths now dominated by pills

The majority of drug-related deaths in the Seattle area are now due to prescription medications like OxyContin rather than illicit drugs, according to this article in the Seattle Times. Of the 240 drug-caused deaths in King County last year, 130 involved prescription opiates such as methadone, oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl or morphine, the article says.

Read more about the pill epidemic in Washington state here.

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Seattle hospitals ban use of OxyContin

Two emergency rooms in Seattle, Wash. will no longer prescribe Schedule II narcotics – including OxyContin – to treat pain. Swedish Hospital Cherry Hill’s ER Director Russell Carlisle, Ph.d., told KUOW News that the ban is a form of “tough love” to prevent patients from becoming hooked on the highly addictive pain medications, and also a way to curb existing abuse. Instead, doctors will be prescribing non–narcotic, non-addictive pain medication like acetaminophen or less addictive Schedule III drugs such as codeine. Though Schedule II drugs still have their place in pain treatment, Carlisle says the need for OxyContin and hydrocodone are debatable in an emergency room.

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Pharmacist's wife decries Seattle pharmacy thefts

pharmacyIn this guest column for the Seattle Times a pharmacist’s wife recounts how she and her husband left New York City for a quieter life in Seattle, only to be plagued by that city’s pharmacy theft epidemic. She notes that a sobering reflection of how severe the problem has become is the fact that Walgreens recently installed time-delay safes in all of its stores in Washington state in an effort to limit instant access to OxyContin. She says she feels like a military wife, wondering when he works nights if he’ll become a casualty of the war for prescription drugs.

In the first seven months of this year, she says, Washington state logged 59 pharmacy robberies – nearly 90 percent of which were opiate-related.

No wonder she can’t sleep at night.

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Nv. medical board eyes over-prescribing doctors

RXNearly two dozen doctors in Nevada are under investigation by the state’s medical board for allegedly over-prescribing the powerful painkiller OxyContin. The crackdown comes after Sen. Richard “Tick” Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) asked OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma to reveal the names of physicians contained in a database that includes some 1,800 doctors who showed signs of dangerous prescribing.

The Nevada medical board of examiners then met with Purdue and was provided with a list of doctors throughout the state who are suspected of criminal activity, according to this article.

Purdue claims it no longer promotes its product to the doctors at issue, the article says.

The company has taken the stance that the painkiller addiction epidemic was fueled largely by pharmacy robberies, doctor-shopping patients and teens raiding home medicine cabinets, but has admitted that a small number of physicians might account for a “substantial portion” of the nation’s black-market supply of prescription painkillers,

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Lawmakers seek reckless prescribing info from Purdue

DRUG BANNEDIn the wake of a Los Angeles Times report describing a decade-long effort by Purdue Pharma to identify potentially problematic prescribers of OxyContin, two state lawmakers are requesting that the company turn over the names of doctors it suspects recklessly prescribed the pills to drug dealers and addicts.

Sen. Richard “Tick” Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) and California state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) want Purdue to reveal the names of physicians contained in a database that includes some 1,800 doctors who showed signs of dangerous prescribing, according to the LA Times.

Purdue has taken the stance that the painkiller addiction epidemic was fueled largely by pharmacy robberies, doctor-shopping patients and teens raiding home medicine cabinets, but has admitted that a small number of physicians might account for a “substantial portion” of the nation’s black-market supply of prescription painkillers, the article says.

According to the article:

Beginning in 2002, Purdue trained its sales representatives to report “red flags” in doctors’ offices, such as young patients, long lines, people nodding off in waiting rooms and frequent cash transactions. Purdue attorneys review their reports, and if a doctor’s practice is deemed too risky, the company bars sales representatives from marketing to the physicians. The suspect doctors are removed from the company’s numbered sales territories and assigned to the database, known as “Region Zero.”

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Bono Mack backs tamper-proof painkiller legislation

Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Ca., has introduced legislation that would require pharmaceutical companies to make new opiate-based pills tamper-resistant. Bono Mack, who is co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse, says the “Stop the Tampering of Prescription Pills” (STOPP) Act would mandate that the FDA inform companies that refuse to manufacture tamper-proof versions to reformulate or withdraw their drug from the market.

But already-existing tamper-proof versions of drugs like OxyContin haven’t necessarily curbed the abuse epidemic. Many painkiller addicts have found ways to get their fix from such versions, or have switched to heroin.

Among Bono Mack’s other pending proposals are the Stop Oxy Abuse Act, which would restrict the use of any pain-relief drug containing oxycodone to “the relief of severe-only instead of moderate-to-severe pain,” and the Ryan Creedon Act of 2011 would require anyone who prescribes controlled substances to be educated on the risks such drugs pose to patients before they can register with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. DEA registration is already required by federal law. Unlike President Barack Obama’s recent plan to curb prescription drug abuse – which allows pharmaceutical companies themselves to “educate” doctors on the risks of their products – the bill specifies that this training should be provided by a medical society, a state medical licensing board, an accredited continuing education provider, or “another organization that the Secretary [of Health and Human Services] determines is appropriate for providing such training or certification.”

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Purdue seeks to extend exclusivity on Oxy patent

The maker of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, is fighting in federal court to extend its exclusive rights to the painkiller, which are set to expire in April 2013. The Stamford, Conn.-based company claims generic drug makers shouldn’t be allowed to market their copycat versions of the old version of OxyContin, according to this article. Purdue’s new version of OxyContin, introduced in 2010, was designed to help discourage misuse and abuse of the medication, although addicts have found ways to get their fix from it.

Generic manufacturers facing patent infringement lawsuits by Purdue say they can make their own “tamper-proof” versions of the drug, and that Purdue is trying to protect its share of the OxyContin market, the article says. Sales of OxyContin exceeded $2.8 billion last year.

In 2007, Purdue and three of its top executives were found guilty of misrepresenting the addictive nature of OxyContin and fined $634.5 million. The company also agreed to a $20 million settlement of similar allegations with 27 state attorneys general.

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Tougher pill rules pit pain patients against “junkies”

In many areas of the nation struggling with prescription painkiller addiction, measures are being implemented to tighten licensing board rules on treating pain patients. In Washington state, this crackdown has prompted a number of doctors and clinics to stop taking new chronic pain patients who are already on opiates, and in some cases to cut off current pain patients, according to this article. While the new rules don’t apply to patients with injuries, surgery, cancer or people who are dying, there has already been pushback. Some doctors say the rules are too burdensome, while pain patients say they’re being denied the medicines they have come to rely on. Others say the stricter rules will drive desperate pain patients to seek illegal pills on the black market or try risky alternatives.

But the real point of contention here seems to be one of perception. Pain patients don’t like to be perceived as “junkies” – “it’s no fun to go down to one of these druggie centers and stand in line with all these guys with tattoos and pee in a bottle,” one man says in the article. And yet, the perspective of these so-called “junkies” isn’t included. I can guarantee that if it were, this would be a different story. The 25-year-old kid who got started on Oxy at 15 doesn’t want the junkie life to be his reality, any more than the pain patient wishes to be in pain (or, if they admitted it, to be hooked on these powerful medications).

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Inside the mind of a pharmacy robber

Pharmacy robberies have become a huge problem as the prescription drug epidemic has spread, often with tragic consequences. This article takes us inside the mind of one OxyContin addict who took to robbing pharmacies to get the drugs his body had come to crave.

Read our prior coverage of pharmacy robberies here, or for the perspective of one pharmacist’s wife, go here.

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Think the new OxyContin is tamper-proof? Think again

There has been much buzz recently about Purdue Pharma’s new version of OxyContin, known as OP, which the drug company claims is designed to help discourage misuse and abuse of the medication. But not surprisingly, people hooked on Oxy are already finding ways to get their fix from it, according to the Seattle Weekly. To recap: Purdue continues to reap billions of dollars from sales of the original OxyContin until its patent expires in April 2013, while also profiting from sales of the new OP. Generic competitors are jumping on the bandwagon by lining up their own versions of “tamper-proof” Oxy. And addicts are still addicted and able to feed their habits, all the while lining Big Pharma’s pockets.

Does anyone else see something wrong with this picture?

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