Category Archives: Trends

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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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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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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ERs prescribing more painkillers: study

RXIncreasing numbers of Americans are being prescribed powerful opiate painkillers during emergency room visits, a new study has found. Between 2001 and 2010, emergency departments in the United States showed a 49 percent increase in prescriptions for narcotic painkillers despite the fact that there was only a small increase in the percentage of visits for painful conditions.

The study, published in the journal Academic Emergency Medicine, found that in 2010, 31 percent of ER visits involved a narcotic painkiller prescription, up from about 21 percent in 2001.

These increases were seen for conditions including abdominal pain, back pain, headache, joint and muscle pain, and toothaches.

In addition, the study found that hydromorphone and oxycodone had the greatest increase in ER administration between 2005 and 2010, while oxycodone and hydrocodone had the greatest increases in discharge prescriptions.

About 12 million Americans abused prescription painkillers in 2010, while roughly 15,000 Americans die annually from overdosing on such drugs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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N.J. task force urges action on opiate abuse

bunchofpillsA New Jersey task force on heroin and opiate abuse is calling for a number of measures to address the state’s growing prescription drug and heroin epidemic. In a new report, the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse said the number of drug-related deaths in the state is skyrocketing, rising 53 percent from 2010 to 2012, with more than two-thirds of those fatalities involving prescription drug abuse, according to this article. The report proposes major changes to New Jersey’s prescription pill monitoring laws, improvements to an insurance system that stacks the deck against drug addicts, and expanded use of recovery communities for students battling opioid addiction, the article says.

Like many other states, New Jersey has seen a rise in heroin abuse in light of the prescription drug addiction epidemic. Heroin is cheaper than pills, and in many cases easier to obtain. In the report, the task force chairman wrote:

“This is hardly the traditional path to heroin abuse, and that is one of the things that make the present situation so troubling. Because readily-available prescription pills have become a gateway drug, heroin is finding its way into the world of people who never imagined that they would ever confront this terrible substance.”

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R.I. boosts access to overdose antidote

overdoseRhode Island authorities are taking emergency steps to address an overdose crisis by making the overdose antidote naloxone more widely available, including to law enforcement agencies. According to this article, the state’s health department says Rhode Island is in the midst of “a severe prescription and street-drug overdose crisis” and that expanded access to naloxone — otherwise known as Narcan — has become “immediately necessary to save lives.”

The emergency regulations allow for naloxone to be prescribed not only to a person experiencing an overdose or at risk of one, but to family members and friends in a position to assist, while police departments would also be able to obtain and administer Narcan under a standing order from a prescriber, according to the article.

Rhode Island reported 55 accidental overdose deaths this year through March 4, about twice the normal number, the article says.

Fifteen states and Washington, D.C. currently have some type of Narcan distribution program, including some where family and friends of addicts receive kits in case of emergency.

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Teen pill abuse down in Ohio

PILLS.jpgThere is evidence that Ohio’s efforts to curb prescription drug addiction among teens is working. Fewer than 12.8 percent of ninth through 12th graders reported using prescription painkillers without a doctor’s orders at least once during their life, according to the 2013 Ohio Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The number marks a 40 percent drop from the previous study, in 2011, when 21.3 percent of students said they had used painkillers without a prescription, according to this article.

But the state’s fight is far from over: many painkiller addicts are turning to heroin when their prescriptions run out or they can no longer afford to get the painkillers from dealers, leading to a surge in overdose deaths in the Greater Cincinnati area, the article notes.

From 2000 to 2011, Ohio’s death rate due to unintentional drug poisonings increased more than 350 percent, and the increase in deaths has been driven largely by prescription drug overdoses, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

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Ky. sees rise in drug-addicted babies

sick babyIn Kentucky, where prescription drug and heroin addiction are rife, hospitalizations for babies born dependent on drugs because of their mothers’ addictions are continuing to increase even as drug overdose deaths level off. In 2012, there were 824 hospitalizations for infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome, up from 678 in 2011 and 28 in 2000, according to this article, which cites a new report by the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center. In addition, the report found that even though drug overdose deaths overall have leveled off and adult drug overdose hospitalizations have gone down, heroin-overdose deaths rose 207 percent between 2011 and 2012, the article says.

According to the article:

Along with the rise in infant hospitalizations has come a similar increase in the charges for these hospital stays in Kentucky, which reached $40.2 million in 2012, up from $200,000 in 2000. Researchers found that 694 of the 824 hospitalizations in 2012 were expected to be paid by government-funded Medicaid, for a total of $34.9 million.

Kentucky currently only has one-tenth of the substance abuse treatment beds it needs, according to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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Heroin addicts facing treatment barriers

drug moneyThe rise in heroin addiction across the nation, fueled by the prescription drug addiction epidemic, has caused an uptick in the number of people 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. The increase in demand for treatment has left many addicts to wait weeks in some cases for care because of denial from their insurance companies, according to this article. Before insurance companies agree to cover inpatient services they want evidence that an addict has tried one or more outpatient programs, has little or no outside support network, and has a health condition that makes treatment a medical necessity, the article says.

Previously, a typical inpatient program lasted a month and the average detox program ran seven to 10 days; these days, as a result of insurance companies scaling back their coverage and increasing their deductibles, inpatient services generally run 10 days and detoxes three to five days — and most insurers will only pay for up to 10 days, the article says.

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Ga. pharmacy robberies rise after pill mill crackdown

gunPharmacy officials in Georgia are reporting that robberies are occurring with greater frequency in light of the state’s recent crackdown on pill mills. According to this article, Georgia became a pill mill magnet after neighboring states, including Florida, passed tougher laws regulating pain clinics.

Georgia lawmakers passed similar legislation last year requiring pain clinics to be licensed by the state medical board and owned by physicians, and the state also launched a prescription drug monitoring program, the article says. As the pill mills have dwindled, pharmacy officials say people who have addictions are being forced to seek drugs elsewhere, leading to the spike in robberies, the article says.

In 2010 alone, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Medical Examiner’s Office reported there were 560 prescription drug-related deaths in the 152 of 159 counties for which it performs autopsies — at least a 10 percent increase since 2009.

Florida’s efforts to combat painkiller abuse resulted in the number of pill mills in that state dropping from 854 to 580 between March 2011 and March 2012, according to this article. In that same time period, the number of inappropriate prescribers of OxyContin in Florida dropped from 98 to 11; Florida previously had the most prescribers of OxyContin in the nation, the article says.

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