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Category Archives: Trends
Florida has taken a number of measures to combat its prescription drug addiction problem, with the unintended consequence of the resurgence of heroin as a popular substitute for painkillers. From July 2010 to June 2011, there were 45 heroin-related deaths statewide, according to this article, which cites data from the Florida Medical Examiners Commission. That number jumped to 77 heroin-related deaths from July 2011 to June 2012, the article says.
The article also notes that addiction treatment numbers are up in Florida, with treatment centers in Broward County seeing an 87% increase in admissions in 2012 among addicts using heroin as their drug of choice, up from 169 to 316; in Miami-Dade County, such admissions jumped from 227 to 308 in the first half of 2012.
It was reported earlier this year that while the number of oxycodone-related deaths in Florida plunged during the first half of 2012 compared with the same period in 2011, heroin-related deaths were holding steady.
Florida’s crackdown on painkiller abuse has resulted in the number of pill mills in the state dropping from 854 to 580 between March 2011 and March 2012, according to this article.
In New Jersey, where drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death, one county is experiencing a massive uptick in heroin overdoses as prescription painkiller addicts make the switch to the illegal street drug. In two years, heroin has claimed at least 50 lives in Bergen County and has its grasp on hundreds more who became hooked through painkillers such as OxyContin and Opana, according to this article. As compared to pills, heroin, at $5 per bag, is far cheaper, potent, and widely available, the article notes.
The widespread painkiller addiction epidemic has fueled the rise of heroin use nationwide, particularly among suburban youth. Between 2007 and 2011, the number of users went from 373,000 to 620,000, according to federal data, and heroin-dependent young adults more than doubled to 109,000 between 2009 and 2011, according to the article.
Legislators in New Jersey are currently considering implementing a law that would grant immunity to those who dispense and administer naloxone, a medication that counters the effects of overdoses from opiates like OxyContin and heroin. The Opioid Antidote and Overdose Prevention Act would allow medical providers to prescribe naloxone and allow people to administer the drug to overdose victims without fear of being prosecuted. It would also require that prescription recipients get information on how to prevent and recognize overdoses, as well as how to administer the medication and care for the overdose victim. Eight other states have similar laws.
Prescription painkiller sales are set to increase by 15% and hit $8.4 billion by 2017, due in part to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recent decision to ban any generic versions of OxyContin based on the powerful painkiller’s original formulation, which does not include anti-abuse features designed to make the pill harder to abuse. Experts are predicting a race across the pharmaceutical industry to create a market where all opioids have abuse-deterrent properties, according to the Wall Street Journal.
According to the FDA, “because original OxyContin provides the same therapeutic benefits as reformulated OxyContin, but poses an increased potential for certain types of abuse, the FDA has determined that the benefits of original OxyContin no longer outweigh its risks and that original OxyContin was withdrawn from sale for reasons of safety or effectiveness.”
OxyContin’s manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, reformulated the drug in 2010 to make it more difficult to crush, break, or dissolve; the reformulated pill forms a viscous hydrogel and cannot be easily prepared for injection. The FDA noted Tuesday that abuse of OxyContin by these routes, as well as the oral route, is still possible.
Like many other areas that have struggled with prescription drug abuse, Maine is now seeing a dramatic spike in heroin overdoses as pill addicts make the switch to the illegal street drug. Portland city officials say that in the past month, they have responded to 14 reports of overdoses, and there have been three deaths from possible overdoses, according to this article.
On Wednesday alone, the Portland Fire Department provided emergency life-saving medical treatment to four people who had overdosed on heroin, while a fifth person was found dead in an apartment from a possible drug overdose, the article says.
One huge factor behind the switch to heroin is the reformulation of OxyContin, one of the most commonly abused painkillers.
The most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that heroin use has risen to 239,000 users in 2010 from 213,000 in 2008 – likely as a result of painkiller addicts switching to the street drug.
As of March 2013, drug overdose “Good Samaritan” laws were in effect in 10 states and the District of Columbia, and were being actively considered by at least a half-dozen state legislatures. But many people are unaware of these laws, or are still fearful of being arrested if they call for help for overdose victims, anecdotal evidence shows. For example, this article out of Chicago reports that in one county, 175 people have died of heroin overdoses since 2007. In many of those cases, the article says, the victims were surrounded by people when they overdosed, but no one called 911 for help – even though Illinois passed a Good Samaritan law last year.
Good Samaritan laws typically provide immunity from drug possession charges; immunity applies to a person who seeks medical aid during an overdose (for example, by calling 911 or taking someone to the ER), and to a person having an overdose.
Although prescription drug addiction is often portrayed as an issue affecting teens and young adults, America’s 78 million aging baby boomers are also experiencing the effects of the epidemic, according to this article in the New York Times. A 2011 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that among adults aged 50 to 59, the rate of current illicit drug use increased to 6.3% in 2011 from 2.7% in 2002; opiates were among the most commonly abused drugs, the article says.
Other studies have estimated that up to 10% of the elderly misuse prescription drugs with major abuse potential, most often anti-anxiety benzodiazepines like Klonopin, sleeping aids like Ambien, and opiate painkillers such as OxyContin, the article says. In addition, women far outnumber men when it comes to nonmedical use of prescription medication: 44% of women as opposed to 23% of men, according to SAMHSA.
One major generational difference seems to be that the elderly rarely use alcohol or drugs to “get high” — rather, they turn to alcohol and drugs in response to the physical and psychological pain due to medical and psychiatric illness, the loss of loved ones, or social isolation, the article notes.
The rate of reported drug overdoses in the U.S. more than doubled between 1999 and 2010, with about half of the additional deaths falling under the pharmaceuticals category, according to this article in Popular Science. The data, which was compiled from WONDER, the CDC National Center for Health Statistics’ multiple cause of death database, showed that nearly three-quarters of the pharmaceuticals deaths were due to opioid analgesics such as OxyContin and Vicodin.
The CDC recently found that drug overdose deaths increased for the eleventh consecutive year in 2010. According to the agency, 38,329 people died from a drug overdose in the U.S. that year, up from 37,004 deaths in 2009.
Overdose deaths involving opioid analgesics have shown a similar increase, the CDC found: starting with 4,030 deaths in 1999, the number of deaths increased to 15,597 in 2009 and 16,651 in 2010.
In 2010, nearly 60% of the drug overdose deaths (22,134) involved pharmaceutical drugs. Opioid analgesics, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone, were involved in about 3 of every 4 pharmaceutical overdose deaths (16,651), according to the CDC.
One in four teens has misused or abused a prescription drug at least once in their lifetime – a 33% increase over the past five years – up from 18% in 2008, according to a new survey, The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS), by the Partnership at Drugfree.org and MetLife Foundation. That translates to about 5 million teens.
In addition, one in eight teens reported that at least once in their lifetime, they had taken the stimulants Ritalin or Adderall when those medications weren’t prescribed for them, the survey found.
Even more disturbing was the fact that almost one in four teens (23%) said their parents didn’t care as much if they were caught using prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription, as compared to getting caught with illegal drugs. And more than a quarter of teens (27%) mistakenly believed that misusing and abusing prescription drugs was safer than using street drugs, with 33% saying they believed it was “okay to use prescription drugs that were not prescribed to them to deal with an injury, illness or physical pain.”
Of those kids who said they abused prescription medications, one in five (20%) had done so before age 14, the survey found.
Georgia’s new prescription drug monitoring database, which is set to become operational in June, may run out of the money it needs to operate soon after its implementation because lawmakers failed to appropriate any funding for the program when they passed legislation to create it in 2011, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
A two-year, $400,000 federal grant that pays startup costs for a new prescription monitoring program grant expires Sept. 30, the paper says.
In Georgia — which is among the last six states in the nation to put a prescription monitoring program in place, according to the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws — prescription drug abuse causes or contributes to the overdose deaths of 11 people every week.
Hospira, the sole manufacturer of opiate overdose reverser naloxone, has jacked up the price of the antidote by 1,110% since 2008, threatening the sustainability of overdose prevention programs nationwide, according to this article. Naloxone distribution programs have handed out more than 53,000 naloxone kits and report over 10,000 overdose reversals since 1996, the article notes — but in the past two years alone, almost 10% of the distribution programs have closed their doors, causing overdose deaths to start to bounce back up.
Possible solutions: the FDA could allow temporary importation of naloxone from foreign manufacturers, the federal government could lower prices by enticing new pharmaceutical companies to enter the market through a fast-track approval process, or the FDA could give the green light to naloxone for over-the-counter use so that people who need it can purchase directly from pharmacies, the article says.
Of course, Hospira could also lower the price of naloxone, which is a $20-million-a-year industry: it would cost a mere $100,000 for Hospira to supply every harm reduction program in the country with enough naloxone to meet current capacity, the article points out.