Doctors Checking Prescriptions Decreases Drug Overdoses

Prescription drugs and overdoses have been getting a lot of attention in the media lately, and for good reason. A little bit of work ahead of time can make life a lot easier by reducing the number of people abusing prescription drugs. One tactic that is getting a lot of attention is one that requires doctors to verify the patient’s medical history before giving them any new narcotic prescriptions.

Initially the program, which was launched in Kentucky, got a lot of criticism from doctors who argued that too much time was wasted with this process. But this added time on behalf of medical professionals has good consequences for reducing drug-related abuse and death.

The program was geared towards helping to cut down on the number of abusers known as “doctor shoppers” who hop around to different physicians in the hopes of getting more drugs. Initially, doctors believed that they didn’t need an online database to help them avoid giving prescriptions to this kind of abusers, but apparently the use of the program has really helped.

In the first year of the mandatory checks, the volume of drugs being prescribed by doctors dropped significantly. Many of the major prescriptions popular among abusers, like Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, and Alprazolam all experienced big decreases across the state.

The program seemed to help with the exact problem it was designed to combat: specific “doctor shoppers” who pick up multiple prescriptions from numerous physicians in the hopes of spurring on an addiction.

With an electronic record of who has requested and received certain types of medications, doctors have been able to avoid giving out multiple scripts for patients who don’t really need it.

There’s good news out there for the patients who do need it, too. Some patients truly in need of pain or other medication were previously looked at with a watchful eye. Doctors were trained to be suspicious of any patient appearing to need pain medication or suggesting symptoms that would warrant such medication. Now, a patient’s medical history with no flags ultimately makes it easier for legitimate individuals to get the help that they need.

After the success of the program in Kentucky, Oklahoma lawmakers are now considering their own version. The state already has one of the nation’s highest rates of overdose deaths and prescription abuse. Two years ago, half of Oklahomans who died in drug overdose incidents were taking pills prescribed by doctors.

Mandatory check requirements certainly are not without critics. Oklahoma lobbyists and doctors have been pushing off such a program for a few years. They argue that the program would be expensive and time-consuming, ultimately causing problems for all patients by generating delays and causing too much red tape.

That opposition isn’t holding too much promise, however, since the Governor is now considering at least making some of the most heavily-abused narcotics are listed in a database. Even small measures could help to reduce the epidemic of prescription drug abuse.

Past research backs up the idea that relying on an inner sense of whether or not someone is a doctor shopper is not sufficient. Many physicians give prescriptions to the people who truly don’t need them.

Kentucky may see a decrease in overdose deaths for the first time in a while, thanks to the new program.

The online database isn’t the only component of the program, either. There are stronger efforts to wipe out “pill-mill” clinics that were not owned by doctors, and had a reputation for passing out prescriptions when not needed. In addition, more training and educational opportunities were given to physicians about pain management and addiction. The bottom line seems to be that the mandatory prescription checks were the most effective at cutting out pain pill abusers.

Kentucky is not alone, as many other states are looking into ways to combat the rising prescription drug abuse problem effectively. Tennessee mandated that doctors verify the prescription drug database back in 2013, along with New York. Ohio has been requiring narcotic prescription history from physicians since 2010.

This appears to be one of the most effective ways to root out potential abusers while still allowing legitimate patients to get access to the medications they need. By limiting how many abusers can visit one doctor, and then another, to rack up multiple prescriptions of the same medicine, one of the biggest epidemics in the country is finally being addressed.

Prescription drug abuse and overdose is a nationwide problem that is finally achieving some resolution. We are seeing plans at the state level to target abusers and make it difficult for them to get access to medications. Oklahoma and other states are expected to follow the lead Kentucky has taken by making doctors check prescription history more often in order to reduce abuse.

This is good news for everybody.

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FDA Panel Considers Tightening Rules on Hydrocodone Prescriptions

 According to recent statistics, the United States consumes 99 percent of all Hydrocodone in the world, yet the United States is merely 4.5 percent of the world’s population.  In 2010, an estimated 131.2 million prescriptions were written for Hydrocodone, making it the most prescribed drug in the United States.  Hydrocodone is a highly addictive painkiller and has been blamed on overdoses and deaths.

Prescription Painkiller Addiction is an Epidemic in the United States
Abuse of prescription painkillers in the United States is an epidemic.  Reports of pharmacies being robbed for Hydrocodone and other strong narcotic painkillers are all too commonplace.  Now the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is asking for help from the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to tighten regulations and make it more difficult to get prescription drugs containing Hydrocodone.  
 
“If Hydrocodone has more restrictive manners tied to it, it could help reduce the abuse potential,” says Special Agent Robert Hill of the DEA Pharmaceutical Investigations Section.
 
FDA Advisory Panel Could Mandate Tighter Restrictions on Hydrocodone
In response, the FDA convened an advisory panel for a two-day meeting on Thursday, January 24, 2013.  The panel is to consider tighter regulations for the prescribing of drugs and other products that contain Hydrocodone.  One of the proposed regulations would limit prescriptions of pills and cough syrups containing Hydrocodone to a 90-day supply.  Currently, these products are available to be filled with five refills within six months.  The advisory panel will also consider moving Hydrocodone-combination products like Vicodin up from a Schedule III to a Schedule II drug, which is more highly regulated.  Drugs currently in Schedule II include OxyContin and pure Hydrocodone.
 
Advocates of tighter restrictions on Hydrocodone believe that moving Hydrocodone-combination drugs to a Schedule II classification will make the drugs less available.  A similar measure was attempted in 2012 with a proposed amendment to the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA), but lobbyists for pharmaceutical companies fought against the amendment, and ultimately it was defeated.
 
Big Pharma Looks to Cash-in on Hydrocodone with New Drugs
Another FDA panel recently voted against approving Zohydro, an extended-release drug that contains pure Hydrocodone.  Manufactured by Zogenix Inc., the new painkiller is ten times more powerful than Vicodin and highly addictive.  Although the FDA panel found that the new drug met FDA standards for safety and efficacy, it voted against approval of the drug based on its high potential for addiction.  The FDA will consider the panel’s findings, but may still approve Zohydro in March when it comes up for consideration.
 
For more information about Hydrocodone and prescription drug addiction, read:
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Big Pharma’s Marketing of Painkillers Launches Senate Probe

Accidental overdosing on prescription drugs now kills more people in some states than car accidents.  Now, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee is investigating the marketing practices of pharmaceutical companies that make highly addictive narcotic painkillers.

The Senate Finance Committee launched the investigation to help ensure consumers are not being misled into thinking that these opioid painkillers are completely safe. 

“Overdoses on narcotic painkillers have become epidemic, and it’s becoming clear that patients aren’t getting a full and clear picture of the risks posed by their medications,” said Senator Max Baucus, who along with Senator Charles E. Grassley has launched the investigation.

Non-Profits Promote Pain Drugs

Pain advocacy organizations have popped up in the past decade, including groups like the American Pain Foundation, which received nearly 90 percent of its funding in 2010 from the pharmaceutical and medical device industries.  These groups highlight the benefits of opioid painkillers and downplay the risks, which include addiction.

The American Pain Foundation has decided to dissolve amid the allegations that it has illegally marketed painkillers. However, the group has cited the decision to dissolve based on operational and financial problems.

The Senate investigation comes just months after Purdue Pharma (maker of the highly addictive Oxycontin) announced plans to release a painkiller 10 times stronger than Vicodin.  The painkiller contains pure hydrocodone, which doctors believe will lead to more accidental overdoses.

Three pharmaceutical companies are being investigated in the Senate probe, including Purdue Pharma, Endo Pharmaceuticals, and Johnson & Johnson.  Five different pain support groups are also being investigated, including the American Pain Foundation, the American Academy of Pain Medicine, the American Pain Society, the Wisconsin Pain & Policy Studies Group, and the Center for Practical Bioethics.

Even the Joint Commission, a nonprofit hospital accreditation group, is being investigated for its partnership with Purdue Pharma.  The group not only brought pain management to hospitals’ attention as a national priority in 2001, but also distributed to those hospitals pain education materials promoting Oxycontin.  The group already pled guilty in 2007 to criminal charges that it understated the risk of addiction with Oxycontin.

Experts Voice Concern about Painkiller Addiction

Narcotic painkillers are currently the most widely prescribed drugs in the United States, despite their classification as highly addictive substances akin to illegal drugs.

Sales of painkillers have risen nearly 300 percent since 1999, and in proportion, the number of deaths due to painkiller overdoses has also risen.  Prescription painkillers are now available even to high school students who have held “pill parties” in which they bring different medications they find around their homes, including painkillers, and take pills without knowing what those pills are.

Even newborns are being born addicted to painkillers.  The Journal of the American Medical Association recently released a report finding that newborns are being born with drug withdrawal at a rate five times that of levels in 2000.

Pain awareness groups have “helped usher in an epidemic that’s killed 100,000 people by promoting aggressive use of opioids.  What makes this especially disturbing is that despite overwhelming evidence that their effort created a public health crisis, they’re continuing to minimize the risk of addiction,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, chairman of psychiatry at Maimonides Medical Center in New York.

Since the 1990s, big pharma has marketed these painkillers to more groups of people.  Before, the pills were largely used to help cancer patients, but companies like Purdue Pharma have sold doctors and consumers on broader uses for the pills, including arthritis and back pain.  Senators Baucus and Grassley noted “There is growing evidence pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and market opioids may be responsible, at least in part, for this evidence by promoting misleading information.”

While these painkillers do have their uses in some patients, the overprescribing of these pills is clearly out of control.  Oftentimes, doctors prescribe the pills without fully explaining to the patient the risk of addiction and overdose.  Critics have said that many doctors need to be retrained on when it’s appropriate to prescribe narcotic painkillers.

I will continue to post updates about this and other pill mill news.  For the latest information on prescription painkillers and pill mills, subscribe to my blog.

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Raid on Dallas Pill Mill yields more details

May 2012 raid on Dallas Pill Mill yields more details, including the name of the doctor who allegedly owned and operated the lucrative criminal enterprise.

Dr. Lee Roy McCurley

 

The name of the physician who allegedly owned and operated the South Dallas Pill Mill has been released. According to the Texas Medical Board,  Leeroy McCurley, M.D. is a family practice physician. Dr. McCurley appears to have no specialty training whatsoever in pain management. Dr. McCurley is not board certified in family practice or any other medical specialty, which according to many doctors is the "gold standard" for physician competence. 

In my experience, it is not uncommon to see family practice doctors self-declare themselves as pain management specialists. And, to my knowledge, there is no requirement that a doctor receive any type of special training in pain management in order to prescribe any quantity or combination of potentially lethal narcotics.

However, let’s be mindful of the fact that based upon what we know thus far, it wouldn’t appear that there was any medicine being practiced at this clinic. By all accounts it appears to be a storefront drug dealing operation, which operated for well over a year in plain sight.

I have often questioned the motives of physicians who like Dr. McCurley become involved in a criminal operation like what has been alleged in this case. We really don’t have to look much further than what was reported in the newspaper as $2 million dollars per year in cash.

Even though we do see the occasional raid like this one, there still remains the potential for enormous cash profits with very low probability of arrest and prosecution. Therefore, as long as white coat drug dealing is profitable the pill mills will flourish.. People will continue to die and the prescription drug epidemic we have in this country will continue to claim lives.

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Dallas Pill Mill Raided

On May 1 ,2012 a Dallas medical clinic was raided by local and state authorities. The allegations stem around the accusation that the doctor who owned the clinic was operating a pill mill.

 

On May 1, 2012,  local and federal officials descended upon a Dallas medical clinic suspected of operating as a pill mill.

Details are lacking at this time about the identity of the doctor accused of operating a Dallas Pill Mill. However, it has been reported that this doctor has previously been sued and may have also operated a similar practice in Grand Prairie, Texas.

I am anxiously awaiting the news of this clinic and doctor and will hopefully have more to report soon. It is good to see Law enforcement acting on clinics like these that seem to operate their questionable practices in broad daylight. 

To read more about how to spot a pill mill, click here to read an article I previously wrote on the subject.

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DEA Fines Las Vegas Pharmacy in Violation of Federal Drug Laws

Lam’s Pharmacy of Las Vegas agreed to settle civil charges that it violated federal drug laws on February 7, 2012. The settlement is a record $1 million to be paid by the non-chain pharmacy.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Las Vegas have been working in unison to identify pharmacies violating federal drug laws and hold them accountable for their illegal acts.  On February 7, 2012, the work of these two units paid off when Lam’s Pharmacy of Las Vegas agreed to pay a $1 million settlement fine for violations of federal drug laws.

The DEA began investigating Lam’s Pharmacy in 2006, starting with the company’s receipt and distribution of controlled substances.  After years of investigation, the DEA took the evidence it had collected to Nevada’s U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden, alleging that Lam’s had violated the Controlled Substances Act.

Lam’s violation of the Controlled Substances Act was a civil violation, rather than a criminal violation.  Still, Bogden stresses that “Civil settlements such as this are an extremely important component in our strategy to combat unlawful prescription drug trafficking in Nevada.”

The $1 million settlement is the largest civil settlement under the Controlled Substances Act against a pharmacy that is not a chain-operated pharmacy.  Bogden promises to continue to enforce violations of federal drug laws by physicians, pharmacies, and pharmacists both civilly and criminally.  The DEA has made clear to pharmacies that they have a corresponding duty not to participate in distributing controlled substances when no valid medical purpose exists.

Although Lam’s did not admit to any wrongdoing or liability, the company has agreed to surrender its DEA registration and pay the settlement within 14 business days. Additionally, Lam’s will be sold, but the business will continue to operate in Las Vegas under new management and a new name.

I would like to congratulate the Justice Department on successfully holding Lam’s Pharmacy accountable for its violations of federal drug laws.  I hope that both the DEA and Justice Department will continue to search out pharmacies that are contributing to the pill mill problem in this nation.

To learn more about prescription drug addition, read my article “America’s Growing Addiction” at www.vanweylaw.com.

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A Tribute to Ken & Esther Scarborough

The Scarborough family of Kountze, Texas, has been instrumental in the fight against prescription drug addiction. After their son died from a prescription drug overdose, the Scarboroughs realized the need to help other families who had lost a loved one.

Far too many families have been devastated by a loved one’s addiction to prescription drugs. Unlike the images we conjure up when we think of a typical drug addict, the faces of prescription drug addiction are the faces of ordinary Americans. One of the casualties of prescription drug addiction was Christopher Scarborough, the 25 year-old son of Ken and Esther Scarborough of Kountze, Texas.

I came to know the Scarboroughs when I represented them in a legal case, which sought to hold the negligent parties accountable for Christopher’s death and to raise awareness about these pill mills, which often masquerade as pain management clinics. In the lawsuit, we alleged that the healthcare providers and clinic owners were nothing more than “drug dealers” who were trying to pass off their “pill mill” as a legitimate pain management clinic.

When Christopher went to this walk-in “pain management clinic,” he was prescribed a cocktail of more than 300 highly addictive narcotic pills, without even receiving an exam or seeing a doctor. Shortly thereafter, Christopher tragically died of an accidental overdose.

Rather than dwell on their son’s heartbreaking death, the Scarboroughs have chosen to help other families who have lost loved ones to prescription drug addiction and accidental overdose.

Since their son’s death, the Scarboroughs have worked every day to fight against the prescription drug epidemic in their son’s name. In 2009, they founded Parents Against Prescription Drug Abuse (PAPDA), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. They have also testified before the Texas Senate, worked to pass legislation to regulate the so-called pain clinics, given countless talks, and comforted other parents who have also lost their children to prescription drug overdoses.

The Scarboroughs need your help to continue their fight. You can help by making a tax deductible contribution to PAPDA at www.papda.net. Your contribution, no matter how slight, will help Ken and Esther keep fighting every day to prevent the reckless prescribing of narcotics from claiming another innocent life.

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New Pain Pill to be Stronger than Vicodin

Purdue Pharma and several other major pharmaceutical companies have announced plans for new prescription painkillers that will contain pure hydrocodone. The pills will be 10 times stronger than Vicodin and will likely be more addictive than the prescription pain pills currently on the market.

Pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma and three other companies have announced a new prescription drug that will contain pure hydrocodone, a highly addictive narcotic painkiller.  The pill is expected to be 10 times stronger than Vicodin, one of the strongest painkillers available on the market.

Hydrocodone is an opiate much like heroin, oxycodone, codeine, and morphine.  The United States is the largest consumer of hydrocodone prescription pills, using 99 percent of what is on the world market.  Much of the hydrocodone available today is combined with other painkillers like acetaminophen.

Over the years, these pain pills have been criticized for being too addictive.  For example, OxyContin, produced by Purdue Pharma, is the most abused pain pill in the United States. When OxyContin was first introduced onto the market in 1995, abusers quickly learned that they could get a stronger high from the time-release caplets by crushing them.

Today, prescriptions that contain hydrocodone are a quick second to oxycodone in terms of abuse.  A stronger painkiller that contains pure hydrocodone could be disastrous for a nation already suffering with substance abuse and addiction.

The market for pain pills is $10 billion, and pharmaceutical companies are coming up with new drugs to get into the lucrative market. But big pharmaceutical companies are marketing the new drugs as safer, arguing that fewer patients will experience liver problems like they do with drugs that contain acetaminophen.

A form of pure hydrocodone could be on the market as early as 2013, but with an even more addictive prescription on the market, more patients may become addicted to the drugs, leading to numerous overdoses that will strain hospitals resources.  Abuse of hydrocodone alone has led to an uptick in the number of emergency room visits related to hydrocodone abuse.  In 2000, more than 19,000 visits to the emergency room were related to hydrocodone abuse, but in 2008 that number grew more than four times to more than 86,000 visits.

Prescription drug addiction is a brain disease that can be fatal if undetected or untreated. To learn more about America’s prescription drug addiction epidemic, visit www.vanweylaw.com.

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Florida Attempts to Crack Down on Pill Mills

Florida has been criticized as being the “Pill Mill Capital of the U.S.” But a new database to track the prescribing and filling of prescription drugs is a needed addition that could help stop the state’s prescription drug epidemic.

Dallas dangerous drug attorney Kay Van Wey talks about pill mills

Known as the “Pill Mill Capital of the United States,” Florida has seen its fair share of problems associated with prescription drug abuse.  

But legislators are hoping to change the state’s bad reputation by implementing the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, which keeps track of when, where, to whom, and by whom a prescription containing a controlled substance is prescribed.

Florida is not the first state to implement a prescription drug database.  More than 30 states currently have these databases in place.
 
Under Florida’s database, doctors and pharmacists must register beginning October 1st and will have seven days to file information regarding prescriptions for certain drugs that contain controlled substances.  Doctors and pharmacists will be able to check a patient’s prescription history before writing or filling any prescriptions.  Lawmakers hope that this will prevent pharmacy-hopping and give doctors an outlet in which suspicious activity can be reported.
 
Currently, nearly seven Floridians a day overdose on prescription drugs.  And according to Florida’s Attorney General Pam Bondi, more people are dying from overdosing on prescription drugs than they are from overdosing on illegal drugs.  
 
In 2010, doctors in Florida bought 89 percent of all Oxycodone sold in the United States.  That same year, the state had 1000 pain clinics up and running, but tougher laws have shut down 400 of them within the past year. And so far, 80 doctors have had their licenses suspended for prescribing large numbers of pills to patients without clear medical needs.  A doctor in Palm Beach County has even been charged with murder for prescribing a patient drugs on which he later overdosed and died.
 
As of now, the program must rely on private contributions and federal grants to continue running through June 30, 2012. The legislature is not allowing the program to accept donations from pharmaceutical companies in general, and particularly Purdue Pharma, the maker of the most widely abused prescription painkiller, OxyContin, which offered the program a donation of $1 million.
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Texas’ Top Prescriber of Hydrocodone Busted in Raid

Texas’ top prescriber of hydrocodone nabbed in raid.

The Texas Medical Board announced that it had nabbed the state’s biggest prescriber of Hydrocodone. Dr. Gerald Ratinov was acting as medical director for several Houston area "pain clinics." Several pharmacies were also targeted in the raid. Dr. Gerald Ratinov, an elderly neurologist, claimed to have been dupped by unscrupulous pill mill clinic operators. 

I applaud the efforts of all involved in their efforts to shut down sources of prescription drug diversion. It is also refreshing to see law enforcement enforcing recent legislation which was enacted to shut down pill mills. 

 

 

 

 

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