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Wisc. legislators tackle heroin abuse

gavelIn Wisconsin, where heroin killed nearly 200 people in 2012, legislators are considering legislation that would provide immunity to anyone who helps a person who has overdosed on drugs, and would also provide immunity for possessing and administering the overdose antidote Narcan, according to this article.

They are also considering a separate bill that would target the abuse of opiate painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin by allowing more medicine collection sites to accept them for disposal. A third measure would create regional treatment centers, the article says.

Heroin overdose deaths surpassed cocaine deaths in Milwaukee County for the first time in 2012, and heroin was present in 32% of fatal overdoses from mixed drug cocktails, according to this article. Narcan is increasingly being used to address the problem: statewide, emergency medical services have seen an increase in naloxone in the last three years, from 2,915 uses in 2010 to 3,247 in 2011 and 3,730 in 2012, the article says.

Overdose hospitalizations accounted for approximately two of every 10,000 hospital visits in 2012, and opiate-related deaths have grown from 2.19 per 100,000 deaths in 2000 to 8.08 in 2011, a report by the State Council on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse found.

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Heroin abuse parallels rise in prescription drug addiction

heroinfoilWhile the abuse of painkillers has become a focus for concern, the corresponding rise in heroin use is also prompting calls for action, according to National Public Radio. In several states, including Wisconsin, legislation has been introduced to give people legal protection when calling 911 about an overdose, NPR says.

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, according to NPR.

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N.C. drug monitoring database underused: report

RXLike many states, North Carolina has implemented a prescription drug monitoring database to identify people who abuse and misuse powerful painkillers. Now, a new study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows that the system – which is voluntary – is only used by about one-third of the 34,000 physicians who are registered with the Drug Enforcement Agency to prescribe controlled substances – and fewer than half of those registered actually used it in the last six months of 2011.

However, at the same time, the number of patients with the most severe drug-seeking behaviors – those who used 10 prescribers and 10 pharmacists within six months – decreased substantially from 217 in 2008 to 115 in 2012, the study found.

Prescription drug overdose kills an average of three people per day in North Carolina.

Nearly all states have operational prescription drug monitoring programs, with the exception of Montana, Nebraska, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Georgia, Maryland, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia, according to the latest research from the Alliance of States with Prescription Monitoring Programs.

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Drug dealer hit with 21-year sentence for heroin death

A federal judge has sentenced a one of three Massachusetts men charged with selling heroin that killed a woman in 2009 to 21 years in prison. The 29-year-old man had pleaded guilty earlier this year to participating in a heroin distribution conspiracy, according to the U.S. Department of Justice in Boston.

Since it is usually difficult to determine where a person obtained a drug after they die of an overdose, suspects are rarely charged with selling a drug that caused someone’s death. This case may signify that authorities are becoming more willing to pursue such charges. In a similar case in Wisconsin, two men who provided heroin that killed a 20-year-old woman are each facing more than 40 years in prison if they are convicted of first-degree reckless homicide. And in the realm of prescription drugs, Florida resident Jeff George pleaded guilty last year to felony second-degree murder in the overdose death of Joey Bartolucci, a 24-year-old addict who died in February 2009 after taking hydromorphone and other drugs. Jeff and his brother Chris, who were accused of running the largest illegal pain clinic network in the country, were eventually sentenced to 15 and 17 years in prison.

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For Purdue’s ‘poster children,’ Oxy led to addiction, death

The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel has produced an investigative report following up with the “poster children” of OxyContin – a group of seven people who were featured in a promotional video for the painkiller that was put out by Oxy maker Purdue Pharma in the late 1990s. Fourteen years later, it’s a mixed bag. Two of the seven patients have died: one man flipped his car after falling asleep at the wheel, high on OxyContin, while a second man was found dead in his apartment of apparent heart failure. Both men were active opioid abusers at the time of their deaths. A third patient became addicted to Oxy but was able to quit after realizing she was headed for an overdose. Three patients still say the drug helped them cope with their pain and improved their quality of life, while the seventh patient declined to answer questions.

The doctor who enlisted his patients for the video – a pain specialist who was also a paid speaker for Purdue at the time – told the Journal that his statements urging physicians to consider prescribing opioids more often went too far, and that success stories may be “quite rare.” In the video, the doctor had claimed that the rate of addiction among pain patients was much less than 1 percent, but he told the Journal that figure did not come from long-term studies of chronic pain patients.

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Pain advocacy group shuts doors amid Senate probe

A U.S. Senate investigation into financial ties between producers of prescription painkillers and organizations that champion such drugs was announced Tuesday, just after the American Pain Foundation, the nation’s largest organization for pain patients, said it would shut down. The group said in a statement on its website that its closure was due to “irreparable economic circumstances.”

APF – which received 90 percent of its $5 million in funding in 2010 from the drug and medical-device industry – came under fire in December over its ties to pharmaceutical companies.

The Senate investigation was launched amid concerns that doctors and consumers aren’t getting accurate information about the risks of powerful opiate painkillers. According to the New York Times, pharmaceutical companies that received notice of the probe include OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma; Endo Pharmaceuticals, which makes Percocet; and Johnson & Johnson, which markets Duragesic.

APF – which was also sent a letter – claims on its website that “misguided state and federal policies are impeding access to appropriate and reasonable medical care for people struggling with pain, and deterring even the most compassionate medical providers from treating anyone with pain conditions.”

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Fueled by Oxy, Wisc. sees rise in heroin

Police in northeast Wisconsin say they are seeing a dramatic increase in heroin use in wake of the new, supposedly harder-to-abuse version of OxyContin, reports. Authorities in the four-county Lake Winnebago area confiscated 15 to 20 grams of heroin between 2000 and 2009, but found 120 grams in 2010, the article says.

The news comes after the University of Wisconsin’s Pain and Policy Group attracted criticism earlier this year for allegedly receiving millions of dollars from pharmaceutical companies, including Oxy manufacturer Purdue Pharma, for pushing for the de-regulation of narcotic pain medicine, which you can read more about here.

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UW claims pain group doesn’t accept industry funds

So, about that Pain and Policy Group at the University of Wisconsin – the one that allegedly received $1.6 million from OxyContin maker Purdue in exchange for lobbying for the de-regulation of narcotic pain medicine? After an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MedPage blew its cover, the University’s chancellor was bombarded with requests to shut the group down. Guess what? The chancellor now claims the group no longer accepts funding from industry involved in the sale and marketing of opioids – a decision that was *supposedly* made before the media expose.

Doubts abound – but at least it’s one less outlet to be used by Purdue as a sounding board.

Read the chancellor’s response to Pete Jackson, the president of Advocates for the Reform of Prescription Opioids, here.

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Take action: UW Pain and Policy Group

Last week we wrote about the University of Wisconsin’s Pain and Policy Group, which lobbies for the de-regulation of narcotic pain medicine. The group has come under fire for receiving millions of dollars of funding from companies like Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, according to a new investigation by Journal Sentinel/MedPage.

Some advocacy groups are now calling on Chancellor Biddy Martin to shut down the group. Here’s what to do if you’d like to weigh in:

  1. Email the chancellor or call (608) 262-9946. Here is a sample letter from Pete Jackson, the president of Advocates for the Reform of Prescription Opioids.
  2. Call your U.S. and Wisconsin legislative offices: Sen. Herb Kohl, (202) 224-5653; Sen. Ron Johnson, (202) 224-5325. To find your U.S. Congressional Representative’s office, enter your zip code here. To find your Wisconsin state legislators, go here.
  3. Explain to the staffer who answers the phone that you’’re calling about an article that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on April 2 about UW’’s Pain and Policy Study Group.
  4. If the staffer is unfamiliar with the article, ask them for their email address so you can send them the link to it.
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Univ. research defends big pharma, aids addiction epidemic

The medical school at the University of Wisconsin conducts research in favor of pharmaceutical companies in exchange for millions of dollars of funding from companies like Purdue Pharma, makers of OxyContin, found a new investigation by Journal Sentinel/MedPage. Beginning in 2006, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report connecting deaths from prescription drugs to a 500 percent increase in prescriptions, the university began issuing their own warnings against any attempt to increase regulation of the drugs. According to the investigation, the school’s reports liberalized the prescribing practices of highly-addictive Schedule II narcotics and may have directly influenced the addiction epidemic currently raging in the U.S.

Some advocacy groups are now calling on Chancellor Biddy Martin to shut down UW’s Pain and Policy Group, which lobbies for the de-regulation of narcotic pain medicine. If you’d like to weigh in, email the chancellor or call (608) 262-9946. Here is a sample letter from Pete Jackson, the president of Advocates for the Reform of Prescription Opioids.

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