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Tag Archives: opioid
Increasing 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.
A 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.”
As you may know, I am a journalist. When my 20-year-old brother Pat died of a heroin overdose in 2009, I had heard about powerful painkillers like OxyContin and knew he was addicted to them, but I didn’t understand the connection to heroin. I started digging deeper, trying to learn more about both Pat’s personal downfall and the painkiller and heroin abuse epidemic. I have spent the past five years traveling the country and talking to people who have been affected by this issue. My book on the subject, Generation Rx: A Story of Dope, Death, and America’s Opiate Crisis, will be published August 12 by Counterpoint Press and is available for pre-order on Amazon. I wanted to share my brother’s story and the stories of other families in the hopes of breaking down the stigma associated with drug addiction.
In 2010, 75% of the 38,000 yearly deaths by drug overdose in the U.S. were related to opioids; in 2011, almost 80% of people who had used heroin in the previous year also had a history of abusing prescription painkillers. This problem is getting worse, not better, and we need to start talking about it. If you’ve been touched by opiate addiction, I hope you’ll read my book and share it with others.
Rhode 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.
If you live on the West Coast, take note that the second annual ENOUGH! Rally is set to be held on March 24, 2014 on the south steps of the California State Capitol building in Sacramento from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. According to the rally’s website, the goal of the event is to educate the public and to advocate for legislation and other action that can make a difference in curbing the prescription drug epidemic.
More details, according to the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse, which is organizing the event:
Pick up free educational materials at information tables and learn about the prevention and substance abuse treatment efforts organizations and treatment centers from around the state are engaged in. Stop by our legislation table to learn about prescription drug-related legislation being introduced during this legislative session and how to voice your support for it.
Multiple organizations will be on hand to provide free prescription drug related educational materials and information about the work they’re doing to make a difference in the area of prevention. Guest speakers include state legislators and advocacy groups who are sponsoring key legislation, representatives from several prevention and substance abuse treatment facilities and parents and others who have been personally impacted by this epidemic. A special dedication ceremony will be held for those lost to or otherwise impacted by prescription drug abuse/misuse.
There 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.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of Zogenix Inc.’s Zohydro painkiller has come under fire from critics who say the agency should not be approving any additional opioids given the current prescription drug epidemic. Forty-two public health groups are urging the FDA to withdraw its support of the painkiller, according to National Public Radio. Zogenix says it will introduce a non-crushable version of Zohydro in three years and plans to closely monitor prescription abuse, and claims that millions legitimately need the drug, NPR reports. But addiction experts say another high-potent, high-dose, long-acting opioid drug will simply add more fuel to the painkiller addiction epidemic, NPR says.
The green light for Zohydro, a new version of pure, extended-release hydrocodone that is said to be 10 times more powerful than Vicodin, came after an FDA advisory panel last year voted against approving the drug, citing concerns about the danger of addiction posed by the opioid drug class.
Unlike other hydrocodone-containing drugs like Vicodin, Lortab and Norco, Zohydro is not buffered with acetaminophen or some other over-the-counter medication. The drug also lacks an abuse-deterrent feature such as the ones used in new formulations of drugs like OxyContin.
In 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.
Pharmacy 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.
Authorities are investigating whether heroin laced with the powerful painkiller fentanyl may have contributed to up to 50 recent fatal overdoses in three states. Fentanyl, an opiate that is 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin, is sometimes added to the street drug to create a stronger high.
According to this article, at least 17 fatal overdoses in Pennsylvania in January were suspected to have been caused by the dangerous blend; while 37 deaths in Maryland since last September and four recent deaths in Flint, Mich. have also been linked to the drug.
A heroin overdose can cause your body to forget to breathe, your blood pressure to dip significantly, and your heart to fail. (Naloxone, otherwise known as Narcan, literally reverses the dangerous effects of taking too much heroin by counteracting the depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system. For every 20% of heroin addicts in a population treated with the drug, about 6.5% of overdose deaths could be prevented, resulting in 2,000 lives saved in a population of 200,000 heroin users, a recent study found.)