Tag Archives: prescription drugs

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.

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.

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.

Researchers Seek Non-Addictive Painkillers

Handling chronic and acute pain has long been a problem in our society. Long ago it was a problem that was largely ignored by the medical community. If you suffered from back pain or nerve pain you were expected to find ways of coping with it. A few decades ago this viewpoint changed dramatically when more prescription painkillers came onto the market. Doctors were prescribing the addictive drugs for all sorts of pain issues, not realizing how addictive the pills were going to be for some people. As a nation, we have realized that the over-prescription of narcotic painkillers is a real problem, however there still needs to be a way to address pain.

Prescription drug abuse is one of the leading causes of death in our country. Addicts oftentimes become hooked on the pills because they were given a prescription for some sort of pain issue. Since the pills also produce a euphoric effect as well as temporarily masking the pain, many people develop addictions to the narcotics.

Once the dependency is created, addicts tend to start abusing heroin as well. Ingesting heroin allows the addict to feel the same high they would receive if they took a pill, but heroin is stonger, cheaper and easier to obtain. Federal and state government agencies continue to seek solutions for the prescription painkiller epidemic. One road of discovery points to finding a new way to treat pain so that other people will not be sucked into a pain pill or heroin addiction.

Scientists believe they are closer than ever to developing a way to treat pain without the creating more addicts in our society. Cora Therapeutics recently came out to say that they are developing a pain reliever that has proven to be safer than other painkillers currently on the market. By “safer”, the company means that there is less chance for addiction with these new pills than there are with the leading prescription pain remedies. However, as has been seen with many other types of prescription drugs, dependency cannot be absolutely ruled out.

If more doctors begin prescribing these less addictive painkillers, it would seem that a much needed shift in the addiction problem may occur. While this will not stop people from becoming addicts, and it certainly will not cure those who are already addicted, it could be a positive step in the right direction.