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Vt. becomes 13th state to pass ‘Good Samaritan’ law

911 dial phone callThe governor of Vermont signed so-called “Good Samaritan” legislation on Wednesday offering protection to anyone seeking medical help in the event of a drug or alcohol overdose, making Vermont the 13th state to pass such a measure. The law extends both to people seeking assistance for themselves and for others, and seeks to prevent overdose deaths by empowering witnesses to report such episodes quickly without fear of legal repercussions, according to this article.

Drug overdoses were responsible for killing 73 people in Vermont last year, and remain the leading cause of injury death to state residents between the ages of 25 and 64, the article says.

Separately on Wednesday, the governor also gave the stamp of approval to a measure that will increase access to naloxone, a medication used to reverse opiate overdose, the article says. Under that law, doctors who prescribe naloxone to opiate-using patients and bystanders who administer the drug to an overdose victim will no longer be to subject to civil liabilities resulting from rare adverse reactions to the drug, according to the article.

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Staten Island Oxy supply dwindles, opening door to heroin

DRUG BANNEDAs the prescription drug epidemic in New York’s Staten Island gets more attention, addicts and criminals are discovering it increasingly difficult to get doctors here to write new prescriptions for oxycodone, or find pharmacies willing to fill those scripts for new patients, which is pushing people elsewhere to obtain the painkiller, according to this article. An analysis of state health department data showed that in 2012, borough residents received 141,481 prescriptions for the drug; Staten Island physicians were responsible for writing out 110,327 of those prescriptions, meaning at least 31,000 of Islander’s scripts, possibly more, come from off-Island doctors, the article says.

Similarly, pharmacies in the borough filled out 122,048 oxycodone prescriptions in 2012, indicating that residents went off-Island to fill at least 19,400 of their scripts, the article says.

By comparison, Manhattan residents received just 264,271 prescriptions for oxycodone last year, but doctors there wrote out nearly twice as many scripts there — 514,819 in total, according to the article.

And unfortunately, the dwindling supply of pills may start to push people towards other dangerous opiates, according to one treatment director quoted in the article:

Everybody who’s been using for the past 10 years, they aren’t going to stop. They’re going to heroin.

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Painkiller abuse among the elderly on the rise

elderly.pills.480Although 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.

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Generic Oxy in N.Y. will enable abusers: Schumer

pillsscatteredNew York Sen. Charles Schumer is calling for added safety features to be imposed on generic forms of the prescription painkiller OxyContin that are set to hit the market in April. The lawmaker says he fears that these copycat versions, which do not include anti-abuse protections that cause them to turn into gels or chunks when crushed, could enable abusers, according to this article.

Many popularly abused prescription painkillers, including OxyContin, have been reformulated in recent years to allegedly make them abuse-resistant. But generic manufacturers are bringing their own versions of such drugs to market that don’t include tamper-proof properties.

The reformulation of OxyContin has prompted painkiller addicts across the country to switch to other opiates as well as heroin, recent research has shown.

Oxycodone prescriptions in Staten Island — which ranks third in oxycodone prescriptions per capita in the state — have remained relatively steady, with 141,022 written last year, compared to 142,059 in 2011, according to the article.

Overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in New York, where almost 22.5 million prescriptions for all types of narcotic painkillers were written in in 2010, according to a recent report issued by the state’s attorney general.

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Naloxone awareness can combat opiate deaths: WRCPC

Although opiate overdoses are skyrocketing in the U.S., many people still don’t know about naloxone, which literally reverses the dangerous effects of taking too much OxyContin or heroin by counteracting the depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system. (This always amazes me, but I myself didn’t know about naloxone until well after my brother’s heroin overdose death in 2009. It took less than 10 minutes for me to get trained in Narcan use by the wonderful folks at the D.O.P.E. Project, a nonprofit whose mission is to reduce fatal overdose deaths by providing overdose prevention education and naloxone to drug users and their loved ones — and if you live in the Bay Area, I highly suggest contacting them to get trained.)

In Canada — which is second only to the U.S. in per-capita consumption of prescription opiates — naloxone costs less than $12, but isn’t widely distributed or acknowledged, according to the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council. In a powerful new short film, the WRCPC explains how naloxone can help save lives and highlights the need for expanding overdose prevention.

Distributing the life-saving opioid overdose reverser naloxone can save one life for every 227 naloxone kits distributed, a study found earlier this year.

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How did we get here?

pillflagThe numbers are staggering: in the United States, the number of overdose deaths from prescription opioids has more than tripled in the past decade, resulting in nearly 15,000 fatalities in 2008 alone and now accounting for more than 40 deaths every single day – not to mention the fact that estimated annual health care costs from this epidemic are as high as $72.5 billion.

How did we get here?

In the latest issue of Emergency Medicine News, Dr. Leon Gussow, a physician and editor of The Poison Review blog, examines how opioid analgesics – once feared as dangerous medications with high risk for addiction and overdose – became the drug class most frequently prescribed in the U.S., with four million patients a year receiving scripts for these powerful medications.

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N.Y. imposes stricter controls on hydrocodone

purplepillsIn New York, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has issued a letter to doctors, pharmacists and other medical professionals alerting them that the widely abused prescription painkiller hydrocodone is now a Schedule II controlled substance under new regulations recently passed by the state. In the letter, Schneiderman calls the drug “highly addictive,” noting that statewide prescriptions for hydrocodone filled increased from 3.8 million to 4.5 million from 2007 to 2009, an increase of 18.4%, while those for oxycodone have increased 82%. In many regions of the state, hydrocodone is the most commonly prescribed controlled substance, according to the letter.

The changes apply only to New York state, although the FDA is currently considering whether to reclassify hydrocodone-containing painkillers from Schedule III drugs to the more restrictive Schedule II on a federal level. In January, an expert panel voted 19 to 10 in favor of the more stringent prescribing requirements. During a two-day hearing last week, the panel heard testimony from proponents who noted hydrocodone’s abuse potential (such products are currently the most-abused prescription medicine behind oxycodone), while critics argued that the move would hinder legitimate pain patients from obtaining treatment.

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Doctors over-prescribing ADHD meds: NYT

bunchofpillsThe New York Times has a devastating story about a family who lost their 24-year-old son to suicide after he became addicted to the prescription drug Adderall. The story calls into question doctors who skip established diagnostic procedures, renew prescriptions reflexively and spend too little time with patients to accurately monitor side effects, noting that highly-addictive medications like Adderall provide a tunnel-like focus that has led growing numbers of teenagers and young adults to fake symptoms to obtain steady prescriptions.

Nearly 14 million monthly prescriptions for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, were written for Americans ages 20 to 39 in 2011, two and a half times the 5.6 million just four years before, the article says.

Separately, a new study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry revealed a significantly higher prevalence of substance abuse and cigarette use by adolescents with ADHD, according to this article.

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N.J. mulls legislation to encourage naloxone use

In New Jersey – where overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death, exceeding traffic fatalities and gun-related deaths – legislators are 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.

Last year, New Jersey legislators floated a separate bill that would have granted immunity to those who report overdoses, but Gov. Chris Christie nixed the measure, proposing that state officials study the issue instead. The governor claimed the legislation was too narrowly focused on encouraging more reporting of drug overdoses, rather than other aspects such as drug abuse deterrence, violence prevention and public safety.

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NYPD to use GPS ‘bait bottles’ to track illegal pill sales

The New York Police Department says it plans to use an innovative approach to combat the theft of painkillers by asking pharmacies to hide fake pill bottles fitted with GPS devices amid the legitimate supplies on their shelves, this article reports. The NYPD says the initiative was prompted by a rash of high-profile crimes associated with the thriving black market for oxycodone and other prescription drugs in recent years, including the slaying of four people on Long Island during a pharmacy holdup in 2011, the article says. Officers will ask roughly 6,000 pharmacists and 1,800 pharmacies in the New York City area to adopt use of the bottles, which can be tracked in the event of a robbery or theft.

The GPS devices will be provided by Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin – the most-abused medicine in the United States.

New York has suffered brutally at the hands of the prescription drug addiction epidemic, and experts say things have only gotten worse since the quadruple homicide at a Medford, N.Y. pharmacy in 2011. According to this article, there were 92 instances in Nassau in 2011 in which prescription opioids were linked to overdose deaths – a tally higher than either of the previous two years and more than triple the 2004 figure. Forty-five of those deaths happened after the Medford killings, the article says.

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