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Friday, June 17, 2016

Fentanyl Salesmen Arrested for Kickback to Doctors

An aspect of the prescription opioid epidemic that is often ignored is the role of pharmaceutical salesmen. These are people who are employed by pharmaceutical companies to travel around the country enticing doctors to prescribe their medical product. Now, it stands to reason that a physician's willingness to prescribe a drug should be based off of the drug's effectiveness at treating a specific condition—and in a perfect world that may be the case. However, doctors are often times given huge incentives to prescribe one medication over another, a practice which surely had a hand in the rampant over prescribing of drugs like OxyContin (oxycodone).

In the wake of the beloved pop star Prince’s death, attention has been redirected back to the powerful opioid analgesic fentanyl. Many Americans may have never heard of fentanyl as the drug is not commonly used outside of hospital settings. Those who had heard of the drug before may have been unaware that fentanyl is 100 time more potent than morphine. Fentanyl, while fast acting and highly effective, can cause severe respiratory depression that can be fatal; this is why it should be scarcely used except under the close supervision of doctors and nurses.

In an attempt to stem the tide of irresponsible prescribing practices, law enforcement has begun to set their sights on pharmaceutical salesmen. Recently, two former pharmaceutical salesmen were arrested from charges stemming from paying doctors to prescribe a form of fentanyl, USA Today reports. The two salesmen, who worked for Insys Therapeutics, allegedly paid two doctors in the New York-area $259,000 in kickbacks to prescribe Subsys.

Most fentanyl prescribed for take home use comes in the form a transdermal patch. The patches are adhered to one’s skin—slowly releasing the drug throughout the course of the day. Subsys, on the other hand, is sprayed under the tongue, according to the article. The spray version of fentanyl works quickly, relieving pain in just five minutes.

"You have this hyper-powerful drug marketed intensely, aggressively and shamelessly without any sense of the addictive and lethal power of what is being sold," said Arthur Caplan, the director of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York.

We will continue to follow the fentanyl story. Stay tuned. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Naloxone Without a Prescription

In the United States, we face a grave and serious situation with regard to both prescription opioids and heroin use. For far too long an unprecedented number of Americans have been able to access prescription opioids, even in situations where an alternative treatment could be utilized. In the wake of widespread over prescribing, an old drug reemerged on the scene—heroin.

Historically, heroin was thought to be a drug found only in heavily populated urban environments—used primarily among the poor and those of ethnic descent. While there may have been some truth to that idea in the past, it is far from reality today; Americans affected the most by illicit heroin and prescription opioid abuse reside in rural parts of the country—the Appalachian region strongly considered to be the epicenter of the American opioid epidemic.

If you have been following the media reports on this subject, it is likely that you have read about the efforts being made to mitigate the crisis. Efforts include:
  • Expanding Access to Addiction Treatment
  • Offering Treatment Instead of Jail Time
  • Utilizing Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs
  • Making It Easier to Acquire Naloxone
By and large, there has been widespread support on both sides of the political spectrum for expanding access to the lifesaving opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone—sold under the brand name Narcan. Thousands of American lives have been saved by the miracle drug, prompting lawmakers, health experts and those who work in the field of addiction to call for legislation which would make it easier for the friends and families of addicts to acquire naloxone.

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Time is of the utmost importance when it comes to an opioid overdose. Friends and family are, more often than not, the ones who are present—having naloxone on hand can better ensure a positive outcome. The good news is that states are jumping on board, and now practically every state has some form of legislation allowing people to buy naloxone without a prescription, Fox News reports.

"This saves lives, doesn't seem to have any negative impact that we can identify, therefore it should be available," said Dr. Corey Waller of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Coroner's Report: Fentanyl Caused the Death of Prince

This past April, millions of people around the United States and across the globe were shocked to learn that Prince Rogers Nelson, more widely known as Prince, died at the relatively young age of 57. While it was unclear as to the cause of the pop singer's death, many were convinced that the superstar passed away from drug related issues. It probably comes as little surprise that Prince suffered from pain after decades of high energy performances, and it was widely known that he endured a hip injury that required pain medication.

Prince had been known to lead a clean life, refraining from mind altering substances over the years, which made it hard for many to believe that his death could be the result of a drug overdose. Now, two months later, the coroner's report has come out, and the cause of his death was an overdose of the powerful opioid analgesic fentanyl, CNN reports. It is likely that you have heard news reports about the drug in recent years, as fentanyl is commonly mixed with heroin to increase potency—resulting in a wave of overdoses across the united states.

Just to put the drug into perspective, fentanyl is around 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine and roughly 40 to 50 times more potent than pharmaceutical grade (100% pure) heroin. The drug is known to cause severe respiratory depression even in small doses—rife for the potential of overdose. Heroin users, more often than not, have no idea that the “dope” they are about to snort or inject is laced with fentanyl; being unaware of the presence of the powerful analgesic, users will dose themselves out as they normally would—ignorance that can prove deadly.

Authorities are still trying to determine where Prince acquired the fentanyl that led to his death, according to the article. To be sure, it could have come from only one of two places. Either a physician wrote him a prescription for fentanyl to treat his pain, or he acquired the drug through illegal channels. Fentanyl is being produced in clandestine labs, typically overseas in countries such as China where it is easy for chemists to acquire the requisite precursors. The drug is then shipped out of China, finding its way to Mexico where it is then moved north of the border.

Without a doubt it is important authorities find Prince’s source; however, where the drug came from will not bring the beloved artist back—as is the case with the thousands of Americans who lose their life in this country from prescription opioid and heroin overdoses. What’s more, Prince’s death, much like Michael Jackson's and a number of other stars' deaths in recent years, drives home the point that everyone is eligible for addiction—and all who use opioids are at risk of overdose. Every day in the United States alone, over 70 people succumb to opioid overdose deaths.
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