Category Archives: Prescription drugs

Oct 7 2014
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Drug Abuse Control Gets a New, Important Rule

Later this week a final rule goes into effect from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) aimed at reducing the misuse of controlled substances. The new rule will allow pharmacies and other approved outlets to accept unused controlled substances from people who want them out of their home so they can’t be abused by people with no medical need for the medications.

Previously, the drugs could only be disposed of at home, brought to a law enforcement agency or brought to one of two annual community “take back” days that the DEA started in 2011. Unused drugs are often found in homes because physicians typically prescribe thirty days’ worth of painkillers after surgery or illness, which can lead to addiction or to the drugs being left in home medicine cabinets where they are ripe for misuse.

Under the rule, certain outlets (including manufacturers, distributors, narcotic treatment programs, retail pharmacies and hospitals/clinics with an on-site pharmacy) can apply to the DEA to become authorized collectors. The public can find authorized collectors in their communities by calling the DEA Office of Diversion Control’s Registration Call Center at 1-800-882-9539.

Experts say the rule is a good start toward getting millions of controlled substances out of the hands of abusers and potential abusers. Data clearly demonstrates the need:

  • According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, almost twice as many Americans (6.8 million) currently abuse pharmaceutical controlled substances than those using cocaine, hallucinogens, heroin and inhalants combined.
  • Nearly 110 Americans die every day from drug-related overdoses, and about half of those overdoses are related to opioids, a class of drug that includes prescription painkillers and heroin.
  • More than two-thirds of people who misuse prescription painkillers for the first time report obtaining the drugs from friends or relatives, including from a home medicine cabinet.

Writing for the Network for Public Health Law blog, lawyer Corey Davis said that while the new rule doesn’t address some key issues—such as who will pay for the returned drugs to be destroyed and whether pharmacies will face any liability if returned drugs are stolen—“it’s an important step forward in drug abuse and overdose prevention.” 

Read more

Sep 15 2014
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Recommended Reading: Some Drugs—Especially Oncology Medicines—Have Been in Short Supply for Too Many Years

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Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently released an issue brief on the continuing shortages of certain drugs, most frequently injectable drugs for cancer treatment. According to the issue brief, there have been fewer reports of newly unavailable drugs in the last few years, but problems remain, forcing many patients to skip some treatments or sometimes opt for a less-effective drug. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updates on drug shortages in just the first two weeks of September found sixteen injectable drugs in short supply, two of them new to the list.

Recent Government Accountability Office reports have found several reasons for the shortages, including:

  • Difficulty acquiring raw materials
  • Manufacturing problems
  • A loss of drug products when factories are updated and modernized
  • Low reimbursement by Medicare and other government payment programs
  • FDA regulations that may slow down new drug approvals

The authors of the issue brief say that it is unlikely that Congress will act, and that the industry has and will make changes likely to help bolster some supplies. Also, thorough reviews such as the current issue brief help remind policymakers that some drug shortages remain.

Read the full issue brief.

Sep 15 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 15

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EBOLA UPDATE: Obama to Announce New Ebola Plan Tomorrow
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
President Obama is expected to make an announcement tomorrow detailing the United States’ increased involvement in combatting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The plan would likely involve an increased U.S. military presence; the government has already committed approximately $100 million related to protective equipment for health care workers; food; water; and medical and hygiene equipment. More than 2,400 people have so far died in the outbreak. Read more on Ebola.

HHS: $295M to Expand Health Services for 1.5M New Patients
Late last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced $295 million in funds to enable 1,195 health centers across the country to hire approximately 4,750 new staff, stay open later and expand their services to cover areas such as oral health, behavioral health, pharmacy and vision services. The funds are available through the Affordable Care Act. HHS estimates that this will help 1.5 million new patients. “These funds will enable health centers to provide high-quality primary health care to more people including the newly insured, many of whom may be accessing primary care for the first time,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell, in a release. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

Study: 11 Million Unnecessary Antibiotic Prescriptions for Kids Annually
Physicians prescribe antibiotics for kids approximately twice as often than they are needed, contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers analyzed a selection of studies published between 2000 and 2011, as well as data on children examined at outpatient clinics, finding that an estimated 27 percent of U.S. children with infections of the ear, sinus area, throat or upper respiratory tract had illnesses caused by bacteria, yet antibiotics were prescribed for approximately 57 percent of these visits. They estimate that there are more than 11 million such unnecessary prescriptions for kids each year. Read more on prescription drugs.

Sep 10 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 10

EBOLA UPDATE: Death Toll Now to at Least 2,296
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The death toll from the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa is now at least 2,296, according to the World Health Organization. However, the global health agency does not have the latest figures from Liberia—the country that has been hit hardest by the disease—making the true toll likely much higher. "It remains a very grave situation," said Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Tuesday, according to Reuters. "It is taking a long time to respond effectively .... We expect it to accelerate for at least another two or three weeks before we can look forward to a decline." As of Sept. 6 there were 4,293 recorded cases in five countries. Read more on Ebola.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Clinton Foundation Announce Consensus Statement on Treating Prescription Drug Abuse and Misuse
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Clinton Foundation have released a consensus statement calling for a public health frame to analyze and disseminate proven, evidence-based intervention to combat prescription drug abuse and misuse. The statement is in response to President Clinton’s call-to-action on the subject in May of this year. “Prescription drug abuse and misuse, as well as widespread addiction and diversion of these products to the illicit market, represents one of the greatest challenges to our country’s public health in recent memory,” said Michael J. Klag, MD, MPH, dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in a release. “This consensus statement marks a continuation of our school’s commitment, as well as that of the Clinton Foundation, to address epidemic rates of poisonings and deaths that are occurring due to prescription opioids and other prescription drugs that are highly prone to abuse and misuse.” According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdoses killed 41,430 people in 2011, making it the leading cause of injury deaths. Read more on substance abuse.

CDC: 90% of Youth Ages 6-18 Consume Too Much Sodium
Approximately 9 in 10 U.S. children ages 6-18 consume more than the recommended amount of sodium, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report also found that approximately 43 percent of the sodium comes from the ten foods they eat the most often: pizza; bread and rolls; cold cuts/cured meats; savory snacks; sandwiches; cheese; chicken patties/nuggets/tenders; pasta mixed dishes; Mexican mixed dishes; and soups. “Too many children are consuming way too much sodium, and the result will be risks of high blood pressure and heart disease in the future,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, in a release. “Most sodium is from processed and restaurant food, not the salt shaker. Reducing sodium intake will help our children avoid tragic and expensive health problems.” Read more on nutrition.

Aug 7 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 7

EBOLA UPDATE: CDC Increases Deployments to West Africa
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced an increase in its deployments and efforts in West Africa in response to the ongoing Ebola outbreak, which is the largest in the history of the disease. The public health agency has activated its Emergency Operations Center to its highest response level and plans on adding 50 disease control experts to the region within the next month.

As of Monday, CDC deployments are:

  • Guinea: 6 currently deployed,
  • Liberia: 12 currently deployed
  • Nigeria: 4 currently deployed
  • Sierra Leone: 9 currently deployed

“The bottom line with Ebola is we know how to stop it: traditional public health. Find patients, isolate and care for them; find their contacts; educate people; and strictly follow infection control in hospitals. Do those things with meticulous care and Ebola goes away,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, in a release. “To keep America safe, health care workers should isolate and evaluate people who have returned from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in the past 21 days and have fever or other symptoms suggestive of Ebola. We will save lives in West Africa and protect ourselves at home by stopping Ebola at the source.” Read more on Ebola.

Study: About Half of All Physicians Utilize EHRs
Electronic health records (EHRs) are increasingly being utilized by physicians and hospitals, according to two new studies in the journal Health Affairs. Researchers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology determined that in 2013 approximately 78 percent of  office-based physicians used some form of EHRs and about 48 percent of all physicians used an EHR system with advanced functionalities. They also found that 59 percent of hospitals in 2013 were using an EHR system with certain advanced functionalities. “Patients are seeing the benefits of health IT as a result of the significant strides that have been made in the adoption and meaningful use of electronic health records,” said Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, national coordinator for health information technology. “We look forward to working with our partners to ensure that people’s digital health information follows them across the care continuum so it will be there when it matters most.” Read more on technology.

Number of Suicide Attempts Using Prescription Drugs Up Dramatically
Suicide attempts involving prescription medications and other drugs climbed 51 percent among people ages 12 and older from 2005 to 2011, according to two new reports from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The greatest increase was seen in people between the ages of 45 and 64, with a 104 percent increase, followed by adults younger than 30, with a 58 percent increase. "We probably are seeing an increase in overall suicide attempts, and along with that we are also seeing an increase in drug-related suicide attempts," said Peter Delany, director of the agency's Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, in a release. "People have access to medications, and they are using both prescription and over-the-counter meds. It is clear that there are more drugs out there." Read more on prescription drugs.

Jul 29 2014
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Four States Join National Governors Association’s Prescription Drug Abuse Project

Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina and Wisconsin have been tapped to join the second round of the National Governors Association’s (NGA) Prescription Drug Abuse Project, tasked with developing comprehensive, evidence-based statewide action plans to help combat the growing public health problem. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin will lead the project, with their states also taking part.

Over the next year, the states participating in the project will accomplish the following:

  • Attend two, two-day meetings with other policy academy states;
  • Host an in-state workshop coordinated by NGA Center for Best Practices staff;
  • Develop a strategic plan for reducing prescription drug abuse;
  • Participate in regular conference calls and other meeting activities; and
  • Receive state-specific technical assistance from NGA staff and national experts.

“We are united by a common goal to reduce prescription drug abuse,” said Sandoval, in a release. “Bringing states together will help each of us learn ways to combat this growing problem. It is an honor to serve as co-lead on this timely and important issue.”

“Communities across the country continue to be affected by the abuse of prescription drugs,” added Shumlin. “That is why this initiative remains so important for governors. As the leaders of our states, our primary concern is for the health and safety of our citizens.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prescription drug overdose is now the leading cause of death from injury, with approximately 113 U.S. deaths each day and 6,748 people treated daily for misuse or abuse in the nation’s emergency departments (EDs).

Additional data on prescription drug abuse from the CDC includes:

  • In 2011, among people ages 25 to 64, drug overdose caused more deaths than motor vehicle traffic crashes;
  • Drug overdose death rates have been rising steadily since 1992, with a 118 percent increase from 1999 to 2011 alone;
  • In 2011, 33,071 (80 percent) of the 41,340 drug overdose deaths in the United States were unintentional, 5,298 (12.8 percent) were of suicidal intent, 80 (0.2 percent) were homicides, and 2,891 (7 percent) were of undetermined intent;
  • In 2011, drug misuse and abuse caused approximately 2.5 million ED visits, with more than 1.4 million of these related to pharmaceuticals;
  • Between 2004 and 2005, an estimated 71,000 children were seen in EDs annually because of medication overdose (excluding self-harm, abuse and recreational drug use); and
  • Among children under age 6, pharmaceuticals account for roughly 40 percent of all exposures reported to poison centers.
>>Bonus Content: Watch a one-minute video NewPublicHealth created on the scope of the prescription drug abuse epidemic in the United States.
Jul 15 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 15

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RWJF Analysis of ACA Effects Finds No Increase in New Patient Visits
A new report, ACAView, from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and athenahealth, finds that in the first five months of 2014 there was no increase in new patient visits, when compared to the same time last year. The ACAView initiative was created to measure the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on providers, patients and physicians from 2014 through 2016. The report focuses on the provider perspective, showcasing how the ACA affects the practice patterns and economics of physicians and other care team members around the country. Potential reasons for the lack of an increase in visits include the newly insured being unfamiliar with the health care system, or even the winter weather. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

Study: Nickel in an iPad Linked to Boy’s Allergic Skin Reaction
An ever-increasing reliance on consumer electronics may also mean rarer allergies are becoming more common, according to researchers who linked an 11-year-old boy’s allergic skin reaction to the nickel found in a first-generation Apple iPad. The study was published in the journal Pediatrics. Previous studies have linked the nickel in computers, smartphones and other electronics to allergic reactions; other common sources of nickel include ear piercings, clothing fasteners and dental work. “With the increasing prevalence of nickel allergy in the pediatric population, it is important for clinicians to continue to consider metallic-appearing electronics and personal effects as potential sources of nickel exposure,” according to the study. Read more on pediatrics.

Study: Changing Generic Pill Color, Shape Can Decrease Prescription Adherence
In addition to known considerations such as side effects and cost, the change in the appearance of prescription medications may also lead some people to stop taking their prescriptions, according to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. In a study of more than 11,000 patients, researchers determined that a change in pill color would increase the odds that a patient would stop taking their heart medication by 34 percent, while a change in pill shape would increase the chances by 66 percent. This adds another wrinkle to the series problem of medication adherence; the American Heart Association estimates that three out of four Americans do not take their medication as directed. Read more on prescription drugs.

Jul 2 2014
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CDC: Physicians are Fueling Prescription Painkiller Overdoses

Inappropriate and dangerous prescription practices for painkillers are driving high addiction and overdose rates—46 people die of a prescription painkiller overdose every day—according to a new Vital Signs report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC has also found wide variation in prescription practices across the country:

  • Southern states had the most prescriptions per person for painkillers, especially Alabama and Tennessee.
  • The Northeast, especially Maine and New Hampshire, had the most prescriptions per person for long-acting and high-dose painkillers.
  • Nearly 22 times as many prescriptions were written for oxymorphone (a specific type of painkiller) in Tennessee than were written in Minnesota.

In total, doctors wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012—or enough for a bottle of prescription pain pills for every American adult in the country.

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“Prescription drug overdose is epidemic in the United States. All too often, and in far too many communities, the treatment is becoming the problem,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “Overdose rates are higher where these drugs are prescribed more frequently. States and [medical] practices where prescribing rates are highest need to take a particularly hard look at ways to reduce the inappropriate prescription of these dangerous drugs.”

According to the CDC, deaths from drug overdoses have been rising steadily over the past two decades and have become the leading cause of injury death in the United States—linked strongly to the overuse of prescription painkillers. In 2011, of the 41,340 drug overdose deaths in the United States, 55 percent were related to pharmaceuticals, and almost three quarters of those were from prescription painkillers.

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Jun 23 2014
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Study: Today’s Drugged Drivers More Likely to Mix Alcohol and Drugs, Have Taken Multiple Prescription Medicines

The profile of a drugged driver has changed substantially since 1993, according to a new study released today in the journal Public Health Reports, which shows that more drivers are now testing positive for prescription drugs, marijuana and multiple drugs.

“While we’ve seen a decrease over the years in motor vehicle fatalities involving people under the influence, the nature of those crashes is changing,” said study author Fernando Wilson, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

The study examines trends in the characteristics of U.S. drivers who were involved in fatal crashes between 1993 and 2010 and tested positive for drugs. The study, funded by the Public Health Law Research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, was set up to investigate the relationship between state laws and the consumption of alcohol and other drugs in fatal car crashes. It found that the percentage of drugged drivers with three or more drugs in their system nearly doubled from 1993 to 2010, increasing from 11.5 percent to 21.5 percent. 

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“In 1993, about one in eight drivers were using multiple drugs concurrently. By 2010, it was closer to one in five. That’s a large increase in drug use,” Wilson said. “Beyond that, we’re also seeing more and more people using drugs and alcohol together. About 70 percent of drivers who tested positive for cocaine had also been consuming alcohol, and almost 55 percent of drivers who tested positive for cannabis also had alcohol in their systems.”

Additional findings:

  • Almost 60 percent of cannabis-only users were younger than 30 years.
  • Thirty-nine percent of prescription drug users were 50 years old or older, which seems to be in line with an overall increase in the use of prescription drugs by Americans, and the older population in general.

“These trends are likely to continue into the future given the aging U.S. population, an increasing reliance on prescription medications by medical providers and increasing initiatives to legalize marijuana,” said Wilson. “However, it is unclear whether current state policies are completely up to the challenge of addressing the growing issue of drugged driving.”

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Wilson about the study. He said he embarked on the research because of the tens of thousands of motor vehicle crashes each year and the need to figure out the most effective policies to curb distracted driving. According to Wilson, eighteen states have zero-tolerance laws for drugged drivers, but recent studies suggest that these laws may not be effective enough in decreasing traffic deaths.

Read more

Jun 19 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 19

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CDC: Induced Births Down for the First Time in Two Decades
The rate for the induction of labor for single births is down for the first time in two decades, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the decrease is small—down to 23.3 percent in 2012 from 23.7 percent in 2011—it is also positive, as induced labor can increase the risk of cesarean section, neonatal infections and neonatal respiratory complications. Induction rates at 38 weeks were also lower for 36 states and the District of Columbia, ranging from a low of 5 percent to as high as 48 percent. Induced labor for non-medical reasons is not recommended before 39 weeks of gestation. Read more on maternal and infant health.

Study: Antidepressant Warnings Linked to Rise in Teen Suicide Attempts
An effort to improve public safety by warning patients about the potential dangers of antidepressants may have had the unintended consequence of actually increasing teen suicide attempts, according to a new study in the journal BMJ. Researchers determined that antidepressant prescriptions for young people dropped approximately 20 percent after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) 2003 warning mandate. At the same time, teen suicide attempts climbed nearly 22 percent, with researchers pointing to untreated depression as a likely explanation. "To a certain extent, the FDA's black box warning was legitimate, but the media emphasis was really on suicide without noting the potential risk of undertreatment of depression,” said lead author Christine Lu, an instructor in population medicine at the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute in Boston, according to HealthDay. “Because of that, there has been an overreaction, and that overreaction has sent alarming messages to parents and young people.” Read more on mental health.

FDA: Voluntary Recall of Generic High Blood Pressure Medication
India's Dr Reddy's Laboratories Ltd. has begun a voluntary recall of 13,560 bottles of a high blood pressure drug in the United States. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that the metoprolol succinate—which is a generic form of AstraZeneca Plc's Toprol XL—failed a dissolution test, which calculates how long it takes a drug’s active ingredient to be released into the body. The recall began on May 23. In March, Dr Reddy's recalled nearly 60,000 bottles of a heartburn drug because of microbial contamination. Read more on prescription drugs.