Category Archives: Opiate Addiction

Tennessee Lawsuit Alleges Opioid Drug Manufacturers Deceived Public

Holding Drug Companies Liable

Three Tennessee prosecutors and the guardian of a baby born addicted to opioids say that several drug manufacturers are responsible for starting an epidemic “through deceptive marketing about the risks of addiction to painkillers.”

A lawsuit was filed on June 13, 2017, in Sullivan County Circuit Court, Kingston, Tennessee. It shares the story of the first few day of life of an unidentified infant born in March 2015, and describes how the child had to be admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of the hospital where he was born.

Child Born Addicted to Drugs

The infant was born to an addicted mother. He spent two weeks in the NICU. During that time, he often “cried uncontrollably” and was treated with morphine to wean him off of drugs. The lawsuit also describes the child as having ongoing health issues and learning disabilities. None of these allegations have been proven in court.

Plaintiffs Seeking Unspecified Damages

The legal action was filed by three district attorneys representing parts of Appalachia. The defendants are Purdue, manufacturer of OxyContin, Mallinckrodt PLC, a drug maker that develops and sells several pain medications, and Endo Health Solutions. The latter company sells Opana; it develops and sells a number of other drugs used to treat pain. Other defendants named in the lawsuit are an alleged pill mill and two people previously convicted for dealing drugs.

The lawsuit is asking the court to make this class of drug less accessible in the state. An unspecified amount of damages are being requested. If the lawsuit is successful, this money will be used specifically for the following:

• Medical expenses
• Drug addiction treatment
• Pain and suffering

The lawsuit is also asking the court to declare an existing state law limiting the amount of non-economic and punitive damages that defendants can be awarded in a lawsuit unconstitutional. The prosecutors who started the lawsuit plan to join with other district attorneys to put pressure on state lawmakers to control the number of pain clinics operating in the state and what they describe as the overprescribing of opioids.

Drug Makers Denying Allegations

Purdue has “vigorously denied” the allegations in the complaint, stating that the company shares the public’s concerns about the opioid crisis and that it is “committed to working collaboratively to find solutions.”

Mallinckrodt stated that it takes its responsibility as an opioid manufacturer “very seriously.” The company said that it only makes generic versions of drugs and doesn’t promote them. Mallinckrodt also said in an official statement that it has made broad efforts to support dealing with the opioid health crisis through “a range of advocacy initiatives, direct lobbying campaigns, and charitable activities.”

Economic Worries can Lead to Drug Abuse

Middle-aged, average Americans are not supposed to die at alarming rates. In fact, with increased health care, social programs and a general improvement of self-awareness, the middle class is supposed to live longer than past generations. However, this is not the case. In fact, ten years ago the number of deceased middle-aged Americans started to climb significantly. In an effort to find out why, two economists, Anne Case and Angus Deaton, delved into the numbers and found a surprising correlation.

They found that other statistics were rising along with the death rate. Drug and alcohol use among this demographic were increasing at a similar rate. What was even more interesting was that as these two things were rising, the economy was taking a nose dive. The uncertainty of the financial future could be causing people to give in to depression and succumb to overdoses, alcoholism and suicides, all things contributing to the death rate.

“Whatever it is these people are unhappy, they’re left behind, some of their jobs have gone away, they’re worse off than their parents were, they’re worried about opportunities for their kids,” explained Deaton.

In a separate study, researchers made a connection between the rise of opioid abuse and the rise of unemployment. They found that countries with more unemployed citizens also had higher rates of substance abuse. It appears that connection is so sensitive that a 1% increase in unemployment effects a 3.6% increase in opioid overdoses. In yet another study, this time in China, researchers found that when trade brought about sudden unemployment there were more suicides and drug overdoses. Examined as a group, these studies certainly indicate that people are greatly affected by the tide of the economy.

But, if rise and fall of the economy can bring about such extreme behaviors, maybe health officials, families and loved ones can use this as a predictor. For instance, if it appears that there are less jobs, or unemployment starts to rise, communities can have programs in place for out -of-work professionals that connect them with their peers, therapists if needed and networking tools to get them back in the work force. There can also be more substance abuse prevention programs for adults.

If you have a loved one struggling with drugs or alcohol due to economic stress, contact us today to see how we can help.

Responsibility for Opiate Epidemic Includes Pharmacies

Opinions abound regarding who all should be held accountable for the surge in opioid addictions and subsequent overdoses in our country. Yes, heroin is leading the pack at the moment, but there were several years leading up to this where painkillers containing substances like oxycodone and hydrocodone were the major culprits, and they are still a major part of the problem today.

A lot of finger-pointing has occurred as to whose fault it was for the number of people becoming dependent. Many place the blame directly on the pharmaceutical companies for the manufacturing and marketing of the drugs. Some people find fault with the doctors who have been over-prescribing the painkillers, although most people only blame the addicts themselves. In truth, these are all correct, but there is another missing element in between the manufacturers, doctors and patients – the pharmacies.

Checks and balances are the framework of our government as well as most businesses and within the health care system. The idea is that one person cannot make sweeping decisions without first consulting or getting approval from a separate entity. This is done to ensure the safety and effectiveness of any decision. For instance, pharmacists make sure that the patient knows how to take their medicine, or alert them if their doctor prescribes them something that may interfere or be dangerous with another medication the person is already taking. Businesses that distribute prescription drugs receive orders from pharmacies and are supposed to alert authorities if a pharmacy is ordering too large quantities for what they need.

However, the checks and balances have failed in places like West Virginia. The state has struggled with the opiate crisis for many years, and they have several counties that lead in prescription overdose death rates. But this is not surprising when one looks at the number of painkillers they had been receiving.

For instance, a pharmacy in Kermit, West Virginia ordered 9 million prescription painkiller pills in two years. This pharmacy is located in a town that has 392 residents. This should have set alarm bells off with the distributor, but instead of flagging it as suspicious, they continued to send the pills.

The amount of money being made on these pills may be what compels distributors to look the other way when pharmacies start ordering excessive quantities of the drugs. According to an investigation conducted by reporters at the Charleston Gazette-Mail, three drug companies (McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen) made over $17 billion from West Virginian pharmacies from 2007 to 2012.

“It starts with doctor writing, the pharmacist filling, and the wholesaler distributing. They’re all three in bed together. The distributors knew what was going on, they just didn’t care,” claimed a retired West Virginian pharmacist.

Prescription drug companies have continued to profit off of the painkiller epidemic that is sweeping throughout the country, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars over time. Although it is difficult to point the finger at only one entity, what happened in West Virginia highlights the importance of maintaining an honest system that monitors the prescriptions as well as the people filling them.

The Surgeon General’s Report on Addiction

US Surgeon General Calls for Holistic Approach in Addiction Treatment

Surgeon General's Report on Addiction

The US Surgeon General has issued the first report of its kind on the subject of substance abuse. In it, Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a direct call to action to stop what he has said is a “public health crisis of drug and alcohol addiction that is both underappreciated and undertreated.”

US Drug Use and Overdose Statistics

Dr. Murthy pointed out that the number of US deaths from drug overdoses reached 47,055 in 2014, which was a record number according to statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This figure represented a 6.5 percent increase over previous years.

The government has requested additional funds to address the serious issue of drug addiction. President Barack Obama has made a request for additional funding of US$ 1.1 billion to help combat the problem. Opioid painkiller abuse is of particular concern, with drugs such as fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone and morphine being at the forefront of the public’s attention.

In 2015, the number of people who have reported either using illegal drugs or misusing prescription drugs has hit 27 million. Close to one-quarter of all adolescents and adults (66 million people) have reported engaging in an episode of binge drinking during the past month.

Early Intervention Important: Surgeon General

Dr. Murthy’s report calls for a holistic approach to taking on the issue of addiction. It should involve a number of entities and organizations, from policy makers and regulators to communities, schools and families. One of Dr. Murthy’s goals is to increase access to existing treatment programs and to expand the number of programs available.

His report also discussed the importance of early intervention in schools to teach children about the dangers of alcohol use. Dr. Murthy pointed out that if a young person has their first drink before they turn 15, they are four times more likely to develop an alcohol problem than if they postponed their first drink to after age 21.

Dr. Murthy’s model for his approach is the 1964 Surgeon General’s report on tobacco. At that time, approximately 42 percent of the US population smoked, but few people recognized the dangers of tobacco products. Through the work of the campaign, the public was made aware of the health consequences of smoking, and the current smoking rate is below 17 percent.

Preventing Opioid Addiction Goal of New Michigan Surgical Initiative

doctor prescribing opiatesMichigan, like other states, has been hit hard by America’s drug epidemic. A team from the University of Michigan (U-M) is taking action against a key factor in the problem: opioids being prescribed to patients both before and after surgery.

The Department of Health and Human Services will be providing a grant of $1.4 million in funding per year over each of the next five years ($7 million total funding), which will be matched by U-M. The team will be launching an initiative that will help doctors and hospitals across Michigan address surgical patients’ pain without putting them at high risk for becoming new chronic opioid users, misusers or addicts.

Michigan Opioid Engagement Network Will Prescribe Fewer Narcotics

The program, called the Michigan Opioid Engagement Network (Michigan OPEN), has set as its goal to reduce the number of opioids being prescribed to Michigan surgery patients by 50 percent. It also wants to lower the number of patients still using opioids several months after surgery by the same rate.

Based in the U-M Medical School and Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, Michigan-OPEN will work with existing networks of hospitals, doctors and nurses across the state. The team will be working with 12 of these networks to understand and use best practices for managing pain for their patients, which includes using opioid pain medications wisely.

“Surgeons prescribe nearly 40 percent of opioid painkillers in Michigan, but have few resources to guide them on best use of the drugs by patients before and after surgery,” according to Chad Brummett, M.D., who is of Michigan-OPEN’s three leaders and the director of the Division of Pain Research in the U-M Department of Anesthesiology. “We hope that by working with surgical teams across the state, we can fill that gap for the benefit of individual patients and our state as a whole.”

According to U-M researchers, approximately 10 percent of patients who weren’t taking opioid medications before they undergo surgery become dependent on them after the procedure. This dependency can open the door to misuse and addiction to prescription and illegal drugs.

How Michigan-OPEN Will Help to Prevent Addiction

Opioid abuse in Michigan is already a widespread issue that costs the state nearly $2 billion each year. Mortality rates are increasing faster than in other states. Michigan-OPEN will move quickly to distribute evidence-based information and advice to health care teams and treatment programs statewide.

Special attention will be paid to patients currently on Medicaid insurance. Patients in this category make up 12 percent of those having surgery, but account for close to one-third of those who develop a post-surgical opioid dependence.

Michigan-OPEN will also work with patients who are already taking opioids prior to surgery. A U-M study has found that care for these patients costs nine percent more than for patients who did not use opioids before their procedure. It also resulted in more complications and readmissions than for patients of similar age, health and insurance status.

Michigan-OPEN teams will work with patients and their healthcare team to create strategies they can use to reduce the number and level of opioids being prescribed and dependence on these types of drugs. One strategy that can be implemented is for surgeons to discuss pain management expectations and concerns with the patient before surgery.

Surgeon General Asks All Doctors to Help Reduce Prescription Opioid Problem

sgrxThe 19th Surgeon General of the United States of America, Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A., has issued a landmark letter to all physicians seeking help to address the opioid epidemic in the country. He acknowledges the critical role that doctors have played in partially creating the problem through the over-prescription of narcotics, while at the same time asserts that they can help to greatly reduce the crisis as well.

“Everywhere I travel, I see communities devastated by opioid overdoses. I meet families too ashamed to seek treatment for addiction,” Dr. Murthy wrote, citing that overdose deaths have quadrupled in America since 1999.

He also noted that the responsibility is shared with pharmaceutical companies as well as patients, stating, “Nearly two decades ago, we were encouraged to be more aggressive about treating pain, often without enough training and support to do so safely. This coincided with heavy marketing of opioids to doctors. Many of us were even taught – incorrectly – that opioids are not addictive when prescribed for legitimate pain.”

Dr. Murthy asked his fellow physicians to take a pledge to reduce prescription opioid abuse at a special website set up at www.TurnTheTideRx.org, which also includes helpful information on recommended prescribing practices, non-narcotic alternatives for treating pain, resources for patients who become addicted and other helpful information. The goal is to address the problem from all sides within their profession.

“First, we will educate ourselves to treat pain safely and effectively. A good place to start is the enclosed pocket card with the CDC Opioid Prescribing Guideline. Second, we will screen our patients for opioid use disorder and provide or connect them with evidence-based treatment. Third, we can shape how the rest of the country sees addiction by talking about and treating it as a chronic illness, not a moral failing,” the Surgeon General wrote.

If you have a loved one who is battling an opioid dependency, contact us today to speak with a treatment consultant who can help you find an appropriate rehab center.

What Role Do Drug Companies Play in the Opioid Epidemic?

drug makers profitingAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 44 people die each day from an overdose on prescription painkillers. In all, more than 47,000 people died of drug overdoses in a single year, according to the most recent statistics, and about 60% of them are tied to opioids such as prescription narcotics and heroin.

Although the majority of painkiller users don’t go on to use heroin, approximately 75% of heroin addicts first started out on prescription opiates. The connection is undeniable.

If so much carnage is tied back to these prescription drugs, what level of responsibility falls on the pharmaceutical companies for continuing to pump out these drugs and market them to doctors as well as patients? Yes, prescribing practices need to be overhauled, which will help, but how much culpability is there on the part of the drug makers that are literally raking in billions of dollars off the plight of thousands of Americans?

An article in Time recently pointed out that there is much more to this connection than many people might suspect. Not only are they profiting off the sale of the addictive substances, but also off newer drugs designed to treat symptoms caused by the painkillers. Dr. Akikur Mohammad, who is an adjunct professor at University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and the author of The Anatomy of Addiction, pointed out that there was a commercial during the Super Bowl for a drug treating OIC (opioid-induced constipation).

Here are a few things to think about. The maker of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, paid out one of the largest fines in history due to misleading practices and knowingly promoting their drug as being safe when they knew it was more addictive, yet they continue to sell the drug. Think they’re alone?

Another important point is that the United States and New Zealand are reportedly the only modernized countries that allow drug manufacturers to market directly to consumers. And it’s working, too – the U.S. consumes 75% of the prescription drugs in the world despite having only 5% of the global population.

Drug-Related Overdose Deaths Reach New High, Predicted to Keep Increasing

drug overdoseThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that drug overdose deaths hit an all-time high, led by a flood of opiate use. Overall, opiods were responsible for about 60% of the 47,000 overdose fatalities in America in 2014. Deaths from heroin specifically jumped over 25%, topping more than 10,000 lives lost. We believe that those numbers are poised to continue rising despite current efforts to curb overdoses.

It is no secret that many people wind up using heroin after they have developed a dependency on prescription opiates. These painkillers were themselves responsible for more than 5,000 fatalities. Despite roughly half the number of associated deaths, there are more than three times the number of people with substance use disorders involving painkillers compared to the number of heroin users.

sud14According to the latest results of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that there were about 600,000 people with heroin use disorders in 2014 and 1.9 million people with pain reliever use disorders. Since having abused prescription painkillers is the strongest single factor contributing to heroin use, there is a very real threat that the number of heroin-related overdose deaths could surge past 20,000 annually if not remedied.

“The increasing number of deaths from opioid overdose is alarming. The opioid epidemic is devastating American families and communities. To curb these trends and save lives, we must help prevent addiction and provide support and treatment to those who suffer from opioid use disorders. This report also shows how important it is that law enforcement intensify efforts to reduce the availability of heroin, illegal fentanyl, and other illegal opioids, CDC Director Tom Frieden stated in a release announcing the recent findings.

There is no one single way to treat opiate addiction. There are many valuable therapeutic procedures that can help the process and a wide variety of rehabilitation programs available. If you know someone in need of help for an addiction to heroin, painkillers or any other drug, contact us today for help locating a facility.

Methadone Overdose Deaths Often Overlooked

methadone With so much attention placed on the heroin and other opioid-related deaths in the United States in recent years, many people have forgotten how many lives have been lost to accidental overdose on methadone. In fact, the Federal government just announced additional funding for opioid-replacement therapy to treat heroin addiction using methadone or buprenorphine.

As a grim reminder, news outlets have just been covering the accidental overdose death of Victoria Siegel caused by methadone. She was the daughter of billionaire property mogul David Siegel. Other notable overdose deaths involving methadone included Daniel Smith, who was the son of the late Anna Nicole Smith, and Alexander Jentzsch, son of missing church of Scientology president Heber Jentzsch.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), methadone is responsible for a much larger percentage of opioid-related deaths when compared to the number of users. In fact, methadone was involved in 31% of opioid pain reliever deaths in the 13 states. It accounted for 40% of single-drug opioid pain reliever deaths. The overdose death rate for methadone was significantly greater than that for other drugs in the same category.

While methadone appears to be deadlier in combination with other drugs, the statistics above demonstrate that it is among the most dangerous prescription narcotics on the market as well. Today methadone is not just used to treat opioid addiction, but also as a pain reliever for serious, chronic symptoms without producing the same high as other opiates. The half-life of methadone is between 10 and 40 hours, so daily doses compound and create a dangerous toxicity level where organs begin to shut down.

So, while it is encouraging to see that there is more funding being allocated to treat opiate addiction, many believe the money would be better spent elsewhere than funding methadone treatments. At the very least physicians, treatment clinics and patients should be more aware of the risks involved in using the drug.

If you have someone battling an opioid addiction and would like to find some successful treatment center options, contact us today.