Tag Archives: pharmaceutical

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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Generation Rx

41mx4k+hrxL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_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.

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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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Zohydro critics fear new wave of addiction

Vicodin-half-life-how-long-does-Vicodin-remain-in-your-body2The 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.

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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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Fentanyl-laced heroin may be behind rise in ODs

fentanylAuthorities 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.)

The investigation into the rise of fentanyl-laced heroin comes as authorities are looking into the apparent overdose death of Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman earlier this week.

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Wisc. legislators tackle heroin abuse

gavelIn Wisconsin, where heroin killed nearly 200 people in 2012, legislators are considering legislation that would provide immunity to anyone who helps a person who has overdosed on drugs, and would also provide immunity for possessing and administering the overdose antidote Narcan, according to this article.

They are also considering a separate bill that would target the abuse of opiate painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin by allowing more medicine collection sites to accept them for disposal. A third measure would create regional treatment centers, the article says.

Heroin overdose deaths surpassed cocaine deaths in Milwaukee County for the first time in 2012, and heroin was present in 32% of fatal overdoses from mixed drug cocktails, according to this article. Narcan is increasingly being used to address the problem: statewide, emergency medical services have seen an increase in naloxone in the last three years, from 2,915 uses in 2010 to 3,247 in 2011 and 3,730 in 2012, the article says.

Overdose hospitalizations accounted for approximately two of every 10,000 hospital visits in 2012, and opiate-related deaths have grown from 2.19 per 100,000 deaths in 2000 to 8.08 in 2011, a report by the State Council on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse found.

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