By Mark A. York (May 11, 2018)
According to sources at all levels from police and fire first responders to emergency room physicians across the country and analysts at the CDC, there’s been no slowdown in opiate based medical emergencies in the US over the last 2 years. Emergency response and ER visits for opioid overdoses went way up, with a 30 percent increase in the single year period of June of 2016 to June of 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The increased emergency room visits also include more young children aged three to fourteen years old, which truly reflects on the unknown number still available opiates that are readily accessible to anyone who has an interest in getting them, and often with an inadvertent and tragic risk to younger victims who somehow are exposed and now being swept up in the opioid crisis.
Center for Disease Control’s Acting Director Dr. Anne Schuchat said overall the most dramatic increases were in the Midwest, where emergency visits went up 70 percent in all ages over 25. This is a figure that’s is comparative to prior medical emergency spikes during pandemic healthcare
Recently two important medical reports on opiate abuse have emerged indicating that the opioid crisis may be at its worst point ever.
The first study comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a federal agency tasked with studying – and stopping – the spread of diseases, including everything from viral infections like the flu to mental health issues including drug addiction. Published in the agency’s monthly Vital Signs report, the study demonstrates that the number of opioid overdoses increased by 30% in a little more than one year from July 2016 to September 2017.
The second study comes from a group of VA medical personnel and public health researchers publishing in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), who wanted to learn how effective opioid prescription drugs were at managing long-term and chronic pain. As it turns out, opioid drugs showed less efficacy than non-opioid pain medications over a 12-month period – and in fact, over time opioids became worse for patients who had to deal with side effects that patients taking non-opioid medications did not have to deal with. Taken together, these two studies show that current opioid drug policies, procedures, prescription practices and standards of patient care clearly need to be rethought.
Drug companies deluged tiny towns in West Virginia with a monsoon of addictive and deadly opioid pills over the last decade, according to ongoing investigations by various public and private entities. After Opioid Big Pharma has reaped billions in profits over the last 15 years at the expense of US citizens, often those in the most rural and distressed areas of the country, it now appears that the time has come for Big Pharma to be called to answer for its conduct.
For instance, drug companies collectively poured 20.8 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills into the small city of Williamson, West Virginia, between 2006 and 2016, according to a set of letters the committee released Tuesday. Williamson’s population was just 3,191 in 2010, according to US Census data. These numbers are outrageous, and we will get to the bottom of how this destruction was able to be unleashed across West Virginia,” committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and ranking member Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) said in a joint statement to the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
The nation is currently grappling with an epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that, on average, 115 Americans die each day from opioid overdoses. West Virginia currently has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country. Hardest hit have been the regions of West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky where for some reason the opioid industry chose to focus on, the how and why will be address in the federal and state courts across the country, as the opioid crisis has caused the “Opiate Prescription Multidistrict Litigation MDL 2804”, to be created and heard in the US District Court-Northern District of Ohio, in front of Judge Dan Polster, see Opiate Prescription MDL 2804 Briefcase.
The House committee repeatedly asked if the company thought these orders were appropriate and what limits—if any—it would set on such small towns. Miami-Luken would not respond to a request for comment. The committee had similar questions for HD Smith, who delivered 1.3 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to a pharmacy in Kermit—the 406-person town—in 2008.
“If these figures are accurate, HD Smith supplied this pharmacy with nearly five times the amount a rural pharmacy would be expected to receive,” the committee wrote. It noted that the owner of that Kermit pharmacy later spent time in federal prison for violations of the Controlled Substance Act. Still, the committee pressed the question of whether HD Smith thought its distribution practices were appropriate.
“We will continue to investigate these distributors’ shipments of large quantities of powerful opioids across West Virginia, including what seems to be a shocking lack of oversight over their distribution, all the while collecting record breaking profits and paying sale reps in the field enormous bonuses. This is the pattern that all Opioid Big Pharma has followed across the United states for the last 20 years, pay field sales rep many thousands of dollars on bonuses, to push opiates on doctors, hospitals and anyone else who can move drugs into the healthcare treatment assembly line.
Why did the emphasis on pain management in the 1990s result in a focus on opioid prescriptions? One reason may have been aggressive marketing efforts by opioid drug makers. For example, from 1996 to 2001, Purdue Pharma held more than 40 pain management conferences for healthcare providers to promote the use of its new OxyContin® extended-release formula of oxycodone. Sales surged from $45 million in 1996 to $1.1 billion a year in 2000—an increase of well over 2000%.
“We were told way back in the ’90s that these drugs were safe, that they wouldn’t hurt people, and that it was imperative to control pain,” Dr. Kalliainen recalls. Then, in 2007, Purdue admitted it had misled doctors into thinking OxyContin was less easily abused than other drugs in its class. It agreed to pay $600 million in fines and other fees to the Justice Department. Something else has changed in the culture as well, says Dr. Kalliainen. Patients seem to be in as much emotional pain as physical pain. “I’ve been in practice for 16 years now, and there’s been a huge increase in free-floating anxiety in patients,” she says.
US physicians often that find writing a prescription for an opioid is the most convenient way to respond to their patients’ demands, Dr. Kallianen says. As a resident in the 1990s, she remembers being told by the attending physician to write prescriptions for 60 or 70 opioid tablets for nearly every surgery patient. “You started a whole generation of physicians who are out there saying, ‘Write them for 60 [tablets] so they don’t call in.’”
One reason the practice has persisted is that surgeons often don’t know what effect their prescriptions are having, says Dr. Kalliainen. “We don’t see somebody dying of an overdose or becoming addicted. We don’t know if somebody is coming in and stealing their medications from their medicine cabinet and then having a problem. All the negative effects are away from our direct vision. So we’re not taking as much responsibility.” But research shows that once they have received opioid drugs, many patients can’t stop using them. One study found that 8.2% of patients who took opioids for the first time after total knee arthroplasty were still using them 6 months later, despite weak evidence that the drugs are effective for chronic pain management.
Among people already abusing drugs, some studies suggest that the opioids serve as a bridge between other substances and heroin.] Even when patients don’t abuse the opioids themselves, the drugs prescribed to them may end up in the hands of people who do. Surveys of people who abuse opioids show that as many as 23.8% obtained the drugs from clinicians, and 53% obtained them from friends or relatives, most of whom obtained them from clinicians.
“It’s not like these are stolen off the truck,” says Brent J. Morris, MD, a shoulder and elbow surgeon at the Shoulder Center of Kentucky in Lexington, who has published extensively on opioid prescribing patterns. “Certainly, physicians play a role in this.”
Opana ER: June 2017 U.S. Food and Drug Administration requested that Endo Pharmaceuticals remove its opioid pain medication, reformulated Opana ER (oxymorphone hydrochloride), from the market. After careful consideration, the agency is seeking removal based on its concern that the benefits of the drug may no longer outweigh its risks.
Codeine and Tramadol Can Cause Breathing Problems for Children
FDA Drug Safety Communication: FDA restricts use of prescription codeine pain and cough medicines and tramadol pain medicines in children; recommends against use in breastfeeding women issued on April 20, 2017.
These medicines can cause life-threatening breathing problems in children. Some children and adults break down codeine and tramadol into their active forms faster than other people. That can cause the level of opioids in these people to rise too high and too quickly.
January 2018 FDA Drug Safety Communication: FDA requires labeling changes for prescription opioid cough and cold medicines to limit their use to adults 18 years and older
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is requiring safety labeling changes for prescription cough and cold medicines containing codeine or hydrocodone to limit the use of these products to adults 18 years and older because the risks of these medicines outweigh their benefits in children younger than 18.
In the United States, has been fighting a losing opioid battle for a long time now. With one study reporting that Americans consume approximately 80% of the world’s opioid drug supply. Given that painkillers make up the one of the largest classes of drugs manufactured around the globe, second only to cancer drugs, this is a rather staggering statistic: According to the CDC, more than a quarter of a billion prescriptions for opioid painkillers were written in 2013, the latest year for which data is available, and that number has almost certainly risen in recent years.
As these two latest studies show, not only are we losing the battle against opioid use – and, more importantly, abuse – but the battle itself is largely one that we should never have had to wage in the first place. A large portion of people who become addicted to opioids do so after receiving a prescription for long-term pain management. But as the JAMA study shows, it appears opioids are actually worse at managing chronic pain than non-opioid medications.
The primary reason for addiction and the correlating social problems is the casual acceptance by so many that opioids prescribed by a doctor are well intended and okay to use, not realizing that over time people tend to build up a tolerance for them. This means that patients have to take larger and larger doses in order to receive the same benefit as they did previously with smaller doses. This has been long known by doctors and researchers, including the Big Pharma Opioid marketing and sales teams, which was reinforced in the JAMA study. Participants reported that opioids were more effective than non-opioids early in the study, but at around six months they started to report that opioids the same or even less effective at managing pain than their non-opioid counterparts.
Other side effects include nausea and vomiting, mental health problems (including everything from confusion to depression), and full-blown chemical dependence. Then, there are the problems associated with opioid withdrawal. The upshot of all these side effects is that, even when opioids are working, they well may wind up causing the patient harm in other ways.
Combined with the increase in overdoses, the fact that opioids are less effective than presumed creates a substantial public health problem. We are throwing large sums of public and private money at treating opioid addiction and related issues caused by a problem that could have been completely avoided by using more effective (and less habit-forming) medications.
People in many different professional areas are looking for ways to address the addiction problem that has arisen while simultaneously working to prevent future addictions. The concern is having the crisis split along political lines where conservative push for draconian solutions and liberals push for free treatment for everyone. Both solution are untenable and misdirected, but there are proponents for both strategies forming in camps across the country. .
Given the reduced effectiveness of opioid painkillers over time, doctors must look at finding newer and better ways to treat long-term and chronic pain, with a more fully evolved treatment protocol. This includes research and developing into safer medications, more active lifestyle review and changes by patients and a wider acceptance by the medical community of complementary therapies, such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, and massage – including the use of medical marijhuana. Awareness about these alternative pain relief methods need to be be included as part of any sincere program that provides solutions to the opioid crisis.
For another thing, public policy on illegal drugs needs to be significantly reconsidered, especially for less-addictive drugs like marijuana. A study published last year in the American Journal of Public Health showed that legalizing marijuana for recreational use can significantly reduce the number of opioid deaths. Considering there have been no known reports of a marijuana overdose ever according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), that seems like a pretty good tradeoff from a simple public health policy perspective.
Another way to fight the problem is to increase the availability of opioid agonist drugs, such as naloxone, not only to health care providers and emergency department staff but to trained first responders and others as well. Naloxone reverses the effects of both prescription opioids and illegal drugs, such as heroin, and it can be an important first step toward helping those with substance use disorders become well.
Finally, IN the emerging MDL 2804 (Opiate Prescription Litigation) the opioid drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies are being held accountable for marketing tactics and self-funded studies that may have overblown the effectiveness of their drugs. Many state, county, and local governments are bringing lawsuits, including RICO claims, against pharmaceutical companies in an attempt to offset costs for public health services that have been used to treat addictions and other medical conditions caused by opioid abuse. The DEA and the Department of Justice recently agreed to provide its data on prescription opioid sales to states and municipalities that are pursuing lawsuits.
The comparison is made to the Tobacco Litigation of the 1990’s which settled in 1998 for $200 billion, WITH he Opiate MDL 2804 litigation being expected to easily surpass that figure with conservative estimates reaching between $750 and $900 billion dollars.