Oxy Watchdog

Keeping An Eye On OxyContin

Posts Tagged ‘overdose’

The end of a journey

Posted by Oxy Watchdog on February 4, 2015

1930428_612120663129_8445_nDear Oxy Watchdog readers,

Six years ago, very shortly after my brother Pat’s death of a heroin overdose, I decided that I wanted to do something to increase awareness about the epidemic of prescription painkiller and opiate addiction in America today. This blog, launched just a few months after Pat passed away, was intended to be a place where people could come to learn more about a problem that is increasingly affecting families across the nation. But it became much more than that. Through the blog, many people from various walks of life reached out to me and shared their own stories. Sometimes these stories were from other families who had lost loved ones, filling me with sadness at the tragic loss of life and the horrors of addiction. Sometimes these stories were from chronic pain sufferers who were indignant at what they saw as my mission to interfere with their medications. Sometimes these stories were from addicts themselves who spoke openly about their own challenges and the heartbreak their drug use had caused them.

What these stories illustrate is clear: we have a problem in this country with prescription painkillers. They are responsible for more than 16,000 deaths each year, and the widespread abuse of opioids has triggered a resurgence in the use of heroin. But even after six years of running this blog, when it comes to fixing this problem, I don’t have the answer. I agree that stricter prescribing rules are probably a good thing, and that state prescription monitoring databases can help us understand the scope of the problem and identify drug seekers and pill pushers. But from what I have observed, these measures have had the unintended effect of driving many people hooked on pain pills to use heroin, so that isn’t fixing the problem either. I also strongly believe that there is a time and a place for opioids. My father battled chronic lymphocytic leukemia for nine years before dying at age 47, and opioids undoubtedly eased his suffering and improved his quality of life. But it is important to note that opioids were originally intended for a very specific medical purpose: to treat short-term post-surgical and trauma-related pain, and for palliative care. The fact is that these drugs carry a substantial risk of addiction: numerous studies have shown that at least 15% and as many as 40% of patients will become addicted to opioids—even when taken as prescribed.

My brother was a wonderful person, full of laughter and love and light. He was the opposite of what you think of when you picture an IV heroin user. And while there are many factors that likely contributed to his substance abuse—including the fact that addiction is a brain disease with a genetic component—it is difficult to ignore the larger context; that our market is flooded with powerful painkillers, which too often fall into the wrong hands. In 2010, 254 million prescriptions for such drugs were filled in the U.S.—enough to medicate every adult in America around the clock for a month. Pat was just one of those recipients, and his progression from pill abuse to fatal heroin overdose is not uncommon. In 2010, almost 3,000 young adults age 18-25 died of pill overdoses—eight deaths a day. And heroin is making a comeback because it provides the same high, but is vastly cheaper—use of the street drug is up by a staggering 45%.

In addition to this blog, I have spent the last six years working on a book, Generation Rx. The book, published in August 2014, details my brother’s addiction and death, interspersed with stories of others whose lives have been affected by opiate addiction. I felt it was important to speak openly about what happened to Pat, because if it happened to him, it could happen to anyone. Our society as a whole still stigmatizes addiction, so the struggles of those affected by this epidemic are shrouded in shame. My hope is that my book, and this blog, will help change that. I have often struggled with the question of how Pat would feel about the sharing of some very intimate details of his addiction and death. Sometimes I think he’d be okay with it, since one of his greatest qualities was his desire to help others; sometimes I think he’d be hurt, embarrassed and angry. It has also been extremely difficult to throw my family’s story into the public eye, though they’ve been supportive of my mission to further awareness.

Six years ago today, we received the phone call no one ever wants to get. Six years ago feels like yesterday; I can still feel the warmth of Pat’s hug and hear his goofy giggle. I have spent the last six years trying to come to terms with the fact that I will never see Pat again, to give him a legacy, to feel that his death was not in vain and—though I’d give anything to have it be otherwise—to believe that in death, he has helped others. It has been a long six years, and now that Generation Rx is published, I will be stepping away from Oxy Watchdog to focus on what lies ahead for me and my family. While I will no longer be updating the blog with news items, I hope that the resources and personal stories contained here will continue to be useful to others.

Thanks for reading.

Erin Marie Daly

Posted in Informational | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Opiate addiction treatment faces mixed reviews in U.S.

Posted by Oxy Watchdog on October 11, 2010

Though buprenorphine, a drug used to fight addiction to opiate painkillers such as OxyContin and Percocet, was approved for use in the U.S. in 2002, it hasn’t met with the anticipated amount of success, reports this article from Medpage Today. Unlike methadone, the current opiate treatment drug of choice, buprenorphine partially inhibits the brain from receiving the feeling of euphoria associated with opiate use. What’s novel about the drug is that primary care doctors can prescribe it and patients can then treat themselves from home, rather than checking into a clinic. However, many physicians are hesitant to not only treat addicts, but to take on the added responsibility of prescribing the drug.

A large problem with the treatment of opiate abuse is that the addict can often become addicted to the treatment drug. Though it is virtually impossible to overdose on buprenorphine, it’s not exempt from abuse. In fact, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency reports that buprenorphine ranks among the top 25 most frequently identified substances analyzed in laboratories and in 2006, an estimated 4,440 emergency room visits were associated with buprenorphine misuse.

Despite its abuse in the U.S., buprenorphine has found some success in France, where it’s credited for a decrease in overdose deaths and a six-fold drop in injection drug users.

Watch a video from Medpage Today about buprenorphine here.

Posted in Informational, Pain Advocates, Pharmaceutical Industry | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Australia struggles with booming Oxy abuse, doctor shopping

Posted by Oxy Watchdog on October 2, 2010

An investigative report in Australia this week shone a light on the country’s growing oxycodone abuse problem, one that closely mirrors the epidemic-like situation in the U.S. According this report from ABC Four Corners, there are 1.8 million new prescriptions for the opioid-based drug every year, and the majority of addiction and recreational uses stems from doctor shopping. Those trying to obtain multipal prescriptions for the drug often know the system better than the doctors themselves, and frequently take advantage of the government-subsidized health program to receive the prescriptions at a deeply discounted rate. They then sell them for enormous profits.

To watch the report, go here.

Read about the increase of prescription drug abuse in the U.S. here.

Posted in Trends | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Flushing, trashing unused prescription drugs poses environmental threat

Posted by Oxy Watchdog on September 21, 2010

The effects of Saturday’s Prescription Drug Take-Back Day won’t just be felt by people – the environment may also reap the rewards. According to press releases from the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the improper disposal of medications may have adverse effects on the ecosystem. While the Food and Drug Administration recommends flushing unused prescriptions down the toilet to prevent abuse, such practices cause contamination to the nation’s waterways.

According to this report from Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, flushed drugs kill the bacteria that break down waste in sewage plants, damaging septic systems. In fact, a 2008 Associated Press investigation found pharmaceuticals in the drinking water of at least 41 million Americans in 24 major metropolitan areas, the IISG reports. According to Ecolocalizer.com, some medicines have even been associated with altering the sex characteristics of fish.

During one of the national take-back events this Saturday, once the drugs are handed in to law enforcement personnel  they will likely be incinerated at high temperatures.

Read more about the take-back initiative here.

Find a collection site near you here.

Posted in Informational, Policy & Regulation | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Watchdog Editorial: Don’t forget the ‘dorm rats’

Posted by Oxy Watchdog on September 4, 2010

The latest issue of Time Magazine has an alarming article on the “national epidemic of pill popping and accidental overdosing.” The article details how the medical community’s increased focus on acute and chronic pain, combined with Big Pharma’s bounty of powerful painkillers like OxyContin, has led to a tenfold increase in prescriptions for opioids in the U.S. since 1990. And “most experts agree that nothing but the exploding availability of opioids could be behind the exploding rate of death,” the article says.

According to the article, the people most affected by opiate abuse are mostly baby boomers – “so-called naive users in the 35-to-64 age group” who are often given 30-day prescriptions for OxyContin, “and it’s like a little opioid starter kit.” The article states that “contrary to stereotype, the people most at risk in this epidemic are not the usual pill-popping suspects – the dorm rats and users of street drugs.”

This may be the case statistically, but it’s not the whole picture. On a recent visit to Massachusetts, Watchdog met with family after family who have lost young kids – most of them under 25 – to Oxy and heroin addiction. Without exception, the kids got started on Oxy in high school and eventually moved on to heroin as they were priced out of their opiate addiction. Watchdog left with a pile of obituaries and mass cards for these kids half a foot high. Watchdog’s take: opiate addiction has many faces, but it’s crucial to focus on how this phenomenon is affecting the younger generation, even if the statistics claim the trend is focused elsewhere.

Quoted in the article is Joanne Peterson, founder of Learn To Cope, a support group for parents and family members dealing with a loved one addicted to heroin, OxyContin and other drugs. Peterson, who has attended 18 funerals of young kids who died of Oxy and heroin since December, tells OxyWatchdog the opiate abuse trend is leading to the loss of a generation of kids, and uses a much stronger word than “epidemic” to describe what she’s seeing on the ground.

“It’s comparable to a genocide,” says Peterson. “It’s killing so many people.”

Peterson – who said L2C’s weekly support meetings have become so heavily attended that they are often standing-room only – also expresses frustration with OxyContin’s maker, Purdue Pharma, for not doing enough to address the addiction problems its drug is creating. (In 2007, the company and three of its top executives forked over a $634.5 million fine to settle charges that they misled doctors and the public about the drug’s dangers.)

“I don’t understand how our country can allow a pharmaceutical company and its executives, who are convicted felons who pleaded guilty to mismarketing, to go on doing business in this country,” she says.

Read Time Magazine’s previous coverage of pill abuse here.

Posted in Editorial, Trends | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Seattle hospitals ban use of OxyContin

Posted by Oxy Watchdog on September 1, 2010

Two emergency rooms in Seattle, Wash. will no longer prescribe Schedule II narcotics – including OxyContin – to treat pain. Swedish Hospital Cherry Hill’s ER Director Russell Carlisle, Ph.d., told KUOW News that the ban is a form of “tough love” to prevent patients from becoming hooked on the highly addictive pain medications, and also a way to curb existing abuse. Instead, doctors will be prescribing non–narcotic, non-addictive pain medication like acetaminophen or less addictive Schedule III drugs such as codeine. Though Schedule II drugs still have their place in pain treatment, Carlisle says the need for OxyContin and hydrocodone are debatable in an emergency room.

Posted in Policy & Regulation | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Calif. doctor linked to six-plus deaths involving OxyContin

Posted by Oxy Watchdog on August 30, 2010

State officials in California are pressing to revoke the license of a doctor linked to several fatalities due to overdoses of prescription narcotics including OxyContin, hydrocodone and Xanax. An article in The Los Angeles Times reports that at least six men have died of overdoses after visiting general practitioner Lisa Tseng, some of whom were known addicts. According to the Associated Press, in addition to misconduct charges from the Osteopathic Medical Board of California, Tseng faces an investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration into her prescribing practices.

Read the DEA’s press release on the issue here.

*Update: Tseng is now claiming that the responsibility for any misuse of the drugs belongs to the users, despite allegations by DEA officials that she routinely prescribed Oxy and other powerful painkillers without properly assessing patients’ medical needs – or their apparent addictions, the LA Times reports.

Posted in Crime | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Canada cracks down on highest narcotic usage in the world

Posted by Oxy Watchdog on August 28, 2010

Facing the highest per capita usage of narcotics in the world, and double the rate of abuse than the rest of the country, the province of Ontario, Canada is implementing a prescription drug monitoring program similar to those already in place in the U.S. Ontario has seen the use of prescription oxycodone increase 900 percent since 1991, claiming more deaths than HIV each year, reports the Winnipeg Free Press. According to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal late last year, the death toll has increased dramatically since the new slow-release version of OxyContin hit the market—supposedly a version less prone to abuse.

To read more about the new version of slow-release OxyContin, go here.

Find out more about prescription drug monitoring programs in the U.S. here.

Posted in Litigation, Policy & Regulation, Trends | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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