Category Archives: Trends

Painkillers fueling drug deaths among Mt. women

pills and pill bottlesPrescription drug addiction is causing a rise in overdose deaths among women in Montana, according to this article. Between January 2008 and August 2013, some 352 Montana women died from a drug overdose, the article says.

Earlier this year, officials in Montana reported a “silent epidemic” of prescription drug abuse that contributed to the deaths of more than 300 Montanans in 2008. Mirroring federal statistics, that number outpaced deaths from motor vehicle crashes, homicides, methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine combined.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than five times as many women nationwide died from prescription painkiller overdoses in 2010 as in 1999, while the number of men dying from prescription drug overdose nearly tripled during the same time period.

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AGs ask FDA to require abuse-deterrent pills

bunchofpillsThe National Association of Attorneys General has asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to require tamper-resistant versions of generic prescription painkillers in a bid to deter abuse. In a letter to the agency, 42 state and territorial attorneys general said the agency should ensure that generic opioids, like their branded counterparts, have abuse-deterrent properties.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 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.

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Pain pill prescriptions fueling teen addiction: study

teendrugsThere are many reasons why teenagers get hooked on prescription drugs, but new research conducted at the University of Michigan has found that those who are prescribed pain relievers are at “notable risk” for abusing opioid drugs.

A University of Michigan researcher found that teens may develop an increased tolerance to the medication, which can lead to continued use of the drug after the initial prescription is finished.

According to the researcher:

“Once an adolescent has been medically exposed to a potentially addictive medication, adolescents are more likely to engage in nonmedical use and diversion, including buying, selling and giving away pills.”

Earlier this year, a separate study found that 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.

Of those kids who said they abused prescription medications, one in five (20%) had done so before age 14, that survey 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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Prescription drugs took 700 lives in N.J. in 2011, 2012

helpPrescription drugs were implicated in the deaths of more than 700 New Jersey residents in both 2011 and 2012, according to statistics released by the state assistant state medical examiner.

The number of drug deaths in the state rose from 843 in 2010 to 1,027 in 2011 and 1,188 in 2013, according to the medical examiner. The number of deaths caused by prescription drugs alone over the three years varied from 402 in 2010 to 470 in 2011 and 460 in 2012, while the instances in which deaths were caused by a combination of prescription and illicit drugs rose from 180 in 2010 to 231 in 2011 and 262 in 2012.

Earlier this year, an investigation into prescription pill and heroin abuse in New Jersey revealed the operation of illicit medical practices run by unscrupulous entrepreneurs and corrupt physicians, some with ties to organized crime.

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FDA moves for stricter hydrocodone controls

bunchofpillsThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recommended reclassifying hydrocodone-containing painkillers like Vicodin from Schedule III drugs to the more restrictive Schedule II, a move that would bring such medications in line with opioid painkillers such as oxycodone and morphine.

In January, an expert panel advising the FDA voted 19 to 10 in favor of the more stringent prescribing requirements. Proponents of the reclassification have noted hydrocodone’s abuse potential (such products are currently the most-abused prescription medicine behind oxycodone), while critics have argued that the move would hinder legitimate pain patients from obtaining treatment.

The reclassification must be approved by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Drug Enforcement Administration, which will make a final scheduling decision.

Separately in September, the FDA announced new safety labeling changes for extended-release and long-acting opioid analgesics such as OxyContin. The updated labels must state that such medications are indicated for the management of pain severe enough to require daily, around-the-clock, long-term opioid treatment.

In addition, because of the risk of addiction and abuse “even at recommended doses,” as well as the greater risks of overdose and death, the drugs must be labeled as “reserved for use in patients for whom alternative treatment options (e.g., non-opioid analgesics or immediate-release opioids) are ineffective, not tolerated, or would be otherwise inadequate to provide sufficient management of pain,” the agency said.

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Drug-dependent newborn rate on the rise in Tenn.

babybottleDriven by the prescription drug addiction epidemic, Tennessee is seeing a dramatic rise in the number of newborns born dependent on drugs. In just slightly more than nine months this year, more babies in the state have been born dependent on drugs their mothers took during pregnancy than in all of 2011, according to this article. By the first week of October, 643 babies were born dependent, compared with 629 for all of 2011, and officials are projecting more than 800 drug dependent babies by the end of this year, the article says. The majority of these births involved a mother taking medicine prescribed by a health care provider, according to the article.

Newborns being born addicted to painkillers is yet another disturbing trend stemming from the rampant abuse of prescription drugs. Nationwide, the number of pregnant women who were dependent on or using opiates when they delivered increased from 4,839 in 2000 to 23,009 in 2009.

As a result, the incidence of babies being born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, a group of problems caused by maternal opiate use during pregnancy, has nearly tripled in the past decade. In 2009, the syndrome was diagnosed in newborns at a rate of 3.4 per 1,000 hospital births per year, up from 1.2 diagnoses per 1,000 births per year in 2000.

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VA over-prescribing narcotics to vets: report

soldier drugsEasy access to powerful prescription opiates has led to a rise in overdose deaths among war veterans, a new report has found. According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Department of Veterans Affairs has issued more than one opiate prescription per patient, on average, for the past two years. Prescriptions for four opiates – hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone and morphine – have surged by 270% in the past 12 years, CIR found in an analysis of data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

According to CIR:

The agency charged with helping veterans recover from war instead masks their pain with potent drugs, feeding addictions and contributing to a fatal overdose rate among VA patients that is nearly double the national average.

CIR notes that this spike in opiate prescriptions has occurred despite new VA regulations laid out in 2009 requiring clinicians to follow an “integrated approach” to helping veterans in pain, including a stronger focus on treating the root causes of pain rather than using powerful narcotics to reduce symptoms.

Many areas of the nation with military bases and large VA hospitals have seen prescription drug abuse skyrocket among American soldiers in recent years.

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Heroin stepping in for painkillers across the U.S.

pills and syringeLocally and across the nation, law enforcement officials have noted an increased use of heroin, which has become a cheaper alternative to legal opiates like hydrocodone and oxycodone. In Grand Rapids, Mich., heroin has become so strong that it can be snorted, which eliminates a hurdle for needle-phobic users, according to this article. In less than four months, Grand Rapids Police have responded to three heroin-overdose deaths, and another 10 overdoses, the article says. Heroin is also on the rise up and down the West Coast, fueled in part by prescription drug abuse, according to this article. The article notes that prescription painkillers and heroin have the same effect on abusers, but heroin is usually cheaper and easier to get.

A recent survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration showed the number of heroin users across the country has risen from 373,000 in 2007 to 669,000 last year.

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Maine heroin deaths up 300% since 2011

heroinfoilDriven by the painkiller addiction epidemic, the number of people in Maine who have died from a heroin overdose each year since 2011 has increased by 300%, according to Harper’s Magazine, which cites data from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. Some experts say that the trend is partly being fueled by recent restrictions on doctors in prescribing painkillers, which has led to a rise in the amount of low-cost heroin in New England states that is increasingly purer and thus more potent and dangerous. According to this recent article in the New York Times, though heroin was once seen as an urban drug, it has been making an alarming comeback in the smaller cities and towns of New England, including in Maine.

Earlier this year, a report found that more than one-third of the prescription drugs stolen from Maine pharmacies are taken by employees. An investigation by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting of state disciplinary records revealed that from 2003 to 2013, 16 pharmacists and 41 pharmacy technicians lost their licenses for stealing drugs from pharmacy shelves or from the patients whose prescriptions they filled.

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