Walgreen’s Illegally Distributes Controlled Substances

Is Walgreen,s Pharmacy really “at the Corner of Happy and Healthy”, like their motto claims? Maybe not…

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The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) caught Walgreen’s Pharmacy red-handed.  Allegations claim they were knowingly and  illegally distributing controlled substances to known abusers and drug dealers. The DEA found an “unprecedented” number of record-keeping and dispensing violations of the Controlled Substances Act.

Walgreen’s agreed to an $80 million settlement to put the matter to rest.  Part of the deal required Walgreen’s to publicly admit that it had failed to comply with its responsibilities as a DEA registrant. Although they claim they do all they can to stop this activity, there is evidence it is still occurring, even after the large sum of money they were required to pay. According to a recent blog article on bytegeist.com, Walgreen’s is more concerned with making a dollar than the health of its customers.

How Does This Effect Me? 

I have written many times about the problem of prescription drug addiction in America. It is crucial to shut down the supply chains if this problem is ever going to be eliminated. Unlike illicit drugs,  prescription drug dealers aren’t standing on dimly lit street corners in the rough areas of town. To the contrary, much of the supply comes from doctors, pharmacies and clinics who are licensed to distribute  controlled substances. With this license, however, comes the responsibility of complying with the law. Unfortunately, many do not comply, and this effects all of us.

Controlled substances may only be prescribed and dispensed for a legitimate medical purpose. When this fundamental premise isn’t followed, illegal distribution and abuse emerge. Narcotics find their way into the hands of addicts and dealers who sell them illegally on the black market. Sadly, the prescription drug black market makes its way into schools and homes, and destroys lives and families. 

Kudos to the Drug Enforcement Agency for getting the attention of one national pharmaceutical chain. Let’s hope it sends a loud message to the others. We all must do our part, as they are, to stop this epidemic in America.

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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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Senator Warns FDA about New, Stronger Painkillers

New York Senator Charles Schumer is warning the FDA that approving a new painkiller containing pure hydrocodone could have disastrous consequences across the nation. Painkillers that contain hydrocodone currently on the market are known to be highly addictive and have caused fatal overdoses.

New York Senator Charles Schumer has seen the effects of prescription drug addiction in his state and has vowed to fight it.  He warns that a new painkiller promising to be 10 times stronger than Vicodin could lead to more violent and deadly drug store robberies.

In June 2011, New York resident David Laffer was charged with robbing a Long Island drug store of more than 10,000 highly addictive prescription painkillers and killing four people in the pharmacy.  He and his wife had been doctor shopping before the robbery in an effort to get prescription pain pills like hydrocodone, which is highly addictive.

Nationwide, more than 1,800 pharmacies have been robbed in the past three years alone.  Long Island alone has experienced a 125 percent increase drug store robberies.

“It’s tremendously concerning that at the same time policymakers and law enforcement professionals are waging a war on the growing prescription drug crisis, new super-drugs could well be on their way, flooding the market.  The FDA needs to grab the reins and slow down the stampede to introduce these powerful narcotics” Senator Schumer said.

The new painkillers, which contain pure hydrocodone, could come onto the market as early as 2013, with big pharmaceutical companies looking to cash in on the $10 billion prescription painkiller market.  At present, hydrocodone is classified as a strictly controlled Schedule II drug under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. 

Products that contain hydrocodone and another painkiller like acetaminophen fall into Schedule III, which is less strictly controlled.  Some experts argue that because of this, highly addictive hydrocodone has been given to more patients, which has increased abuse of the drug and overdose rates in the United States.

A prescription painkiller that contains pure hydrocodone could lead to more accidental overdoses, leading to more emergency room visits.  Experts say that already thin hospital emergency room resources could become even more strained if this new drug is allowed on the market.  In 2008 alone, emergency room visits related to hydrocodone abuse totaled more than 86,000, up more than 400 percent from 2000 when an estimated 19,000 visits were recorded.

To learn more about prescription drug addiction, 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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Prescription Drug Overdose Deaths on the Rise

Deaths due to prescription drug overdose have nearly tripled within the past 10 years. Experts say that irresponsible doctors are to blame for the abuse of highly addictive prescription painkillers.

(Image: Michelle Meiklejohn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a new report detailing that as many as 40 Americans die each day from overdosing on prescription painkillers.  That amounts to nearly 15,000 deaths each year.

Deaths due to prescription overdose are now more common than deaths caused by heroin and cocaine combined.  And the problem does not look like it will be ending anytime soon.  Prescription painkiller overdose deaths have increased three times over within the past decade.

80% of the World’s Painkillers are Taken in the U.S.

Director of the CDC, Dr. Thomas Frieden, blames irresponsible doctors for the uptick in prescription painkiller abuse.  He and other CDC experts have estimated that in 2010 enough painkillers were prescribed to supply every American adult with a one-month supply.

More than 600,000 doctors are licensed to prescribe opiate-based painkillers.  Vicodin is one of the most popular prescription painkillers, because it is not as strictly regulated as its counterparts, making it easier for doctors to prescribe.  In fact, 99 percent of the entire world’s supply of Vicodin is used by patients in the United States.

Accidental Overdoses from Prescription Painkillers Now Kill More People than Car Accidents in 17 States

The overprescribing of prescription painkillers is not only causing death, it is also costing an estimated $72.5 billion.  And, three of the hardest hit states are Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Florida.

The federal government has proposed expanding statewide prescription drug monitoring programs to monitor electronically the number of painkillers prescribed in each state.  But critics say these programs will not work alone.  Patients need to be educated about the dangers of abusing and overdosing on prescription painkillers.

National Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske says doctors need to be retrained on writing prescriptions for narcotic pain relievers.  He adds that people with moderate pain, such as back pain, should not be prescribed these highly addictive painkillers.

To learn more about America’s epidemic of prescription drug addiction, read my article “America’s Growing Addiction” at 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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Tylenol Lowers Daily Recommended Dose

Johnson & Johnson has recently lowered the daily recommended dose for its popular OTC drug, Extra Strength Tylenol. The drug, which contains acetaminophen, has been shown to cause liver failure when patients overdose on it.

Tylenol! Pictures, Images and Photos

Do you take over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications daily at the maximum recommended dosage?  If so, you may be over-medicating yourself.  

Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer of the popular OTC pain pill Tylenol recently announced that it would be reducing the recommended dose of its Extra Strength Tylenol from 4,000 mg or eight pills a day to 3,000 mg or six pills a day.  Tylenol contains acetaminophen, which is found in more than 600 medicines, including Alka-Seltzer, Nyquil, and Sudafed.   People mixing these medicines often unknowingly overdose on acetaminophen.
 
So why is Johnson & Johnson changing its dosing instructions now?  More than 56,000 Americans are hospitalized each year after overdosing on acetaminophen, which can cause liver failure.  In fact, acetaminophen overdoses are the leading cause of liver failure in the United States and lead to nearly 458 deaths each year.
 
Because acetaminophen is found in so many other OTC products, Johnson & Johnson thought it would be best for consumers if the company lowered the daily recommended dose.  New labels on Extra Strength Tylenol with the reduced dosage will start rolling out this fall.  Next year, Johnson & Johnson will also change the dosing instructions on its regular Tylenol.
 
While health experts are praising Johnson & Johnson for voluntarily changing the labels to reflect the lower recommended dosage, they are also worried that companies that produce similar OTC products are not informing consumers sufficiently about these medicines and how they may interact with other medicines.
 
Beginning as early as 2009, some medical experts called on Johnson & Johnson and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to lower the recommended dose to as little as 2,600 mg per day.  They also urged the major pharmaceutical company to require a prescription be written for Extra Strength Tylenol 500 mg.  Neither of these changes were made at the time, and Extra Strength Tylenol is still available as an OTC medication.
 
In recent years, Johnson & Johnson has suffered major setbacks in manufacturing several of its popular OTC drugs.  Just this year, the company recalled 43 million packages of Tylenol, Benadryl, Sudafed, and Sinutab products because the equipment used to produce the drugs was not sufficiently cleaned.
 
Even with “safe” OTC drugs on the market, pharmaceutical companies need to help consumers understand what ingredients are in the medicines they are taking, how those interact together, and the maximum dosage of each drug they should be taking per day.
 
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Money Before Medicine

Schneider duo found guilty of operating pill mill.

On its seventh day of deliberations, a federal jury on Thursday, June 24 found Kansas  doctor Stephen Schneider and his nurse wife Linda Schneider guilty of conspiring to profit from illegally prescribing painkillers to patients, many of whom later died. The jury also found the Schneiders guilty on five counts of unlawfully writing prescriptions and on 11 health care fraud counts. The jury found Linda Schneider guilty of 15 money laundering charges.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Treadway prosecuted the case, which consumed eight weeks of trial. In a 34-count indictment, the Schneiders were charged with conspiring to illegally distribute prescription drugs that contributed to 21 deaths, fraud, and money laundering. The prosecution put on evidence of 176 overdoses and 68 deaths related to the pill mill.

This was a case of “money before medicine,” Tanya Treadway said. According to the prosecution, about half of the 10,000 patients treated at the Schneider Medical Clinic received pain medication. The clinic was open 11 hours a day every day, had 14 exam rooms and  scheduled patients 10 minutes apart.  Prosecutors allege the clinic made $7 million in a little over four years through health care fraud. The Schneiders pocketed about $1.5 million. The prosecution put on evidence of 176 overdoses and 68 deaths related to the pill mill.

Dr. Schneider’s attorney, reportedly supported by the advocacy group Pain Relief Network that advocates for the right to pain treatment, argued that Dr. Schneider acted “with a pure heart.” He said that “what [Dr. Schneider] did with his patients, he did so innocently, he did so honestly, and he did so courageously.”

 

Curiously, Dr. Schneider chose to drive a bright yellow hummer emblazoned with skull and crossbones to and from the pill mill on a daily basis. I wonder what kind of message he was trying to send? Was he  in a state of deep denial or did he have  so little fear of ever being prosecuted for his pill peddling that he felt bulletproof? We will probably never know, but I am sure the vehicle represents to the victims everything that was wrong with the Schneiders and their so called medical practice.

Sentencing has not yet been set. The Schneiders could face up to a life sentence.  The Schneiders also will stand trial in several civil wrongful death lawsuits which have been filed against them.
 

 We applaud the courage of Tanya Treadway in stepping up to the plate to prosecute this case.  It takes hard work and effort to bring persons such as these to justice.  Prosecutions such as these must continue to happen. Pill mill operators need to go to jail  just like persons who peddle street drugs go to jail. Pill mill operators must also be held liable for monetary damages for the devastation that they are causing while lining their pockets with blood money.Hopefully, the combination of vigorous criminal and civil prosecution will stem the tide of prescription drug overdose deaths.
 

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