Tag Archives: florida

Thieves target pharma cargo, cause shortages

Reporting for WBBH-Fort Myers, Fla., Andy Pierotti reports that highly specialized thieves have made an art form  of snatching shipping containers in the state, slipping in like ninjas and getting away with the massive haul in fewer than 90 seconds. They’ll take anything they can get, Pierotti writes, but the big prize is a shipment full of pharmaceuticals.

An intercepted shipment, especially one loaded with rare drugs with tight supply chains, can cause nationwide shortages and price hikes, experts say. And, no matter how esoteric the product, the criminals seem to be able to find buyers.

An NBC2 investigation discovered over the last four years in Florida, thieves stole at least 24 cargo containers full of pharmaceuticals. From dialysis products to eye medicine, they were valued at $5.6 million.

Erik Hoffer, an expert in pharmaceutical cargo crime, says the evidence disappears fast.

“Those pills can be blended into real and fake, there’s no way to trace it anymore and you’ve eaten the evidence,” said Hoffer.

Local hospital administrators say they can feel the pinch when a shipment goes missing, and that the problem has worsened in recent years. There are possible solutions, but their implementation would likely spell more price increases.

Possible remedies to the problem include putting tracking devices on individual pill bottles or cartons, and a consumer interactive tool on the pill box that allows them find out [if] it was reported stolen.

The problem is, that’s expensive and the cost would likely be passed down on the customer.

The stolen drugs pose a health risk, as well. One expert says the stolen drugs can be blended with other drugs and resold, with consumers none the wiser.

Fla. hospitals make little progress on error reduction

South Florida Sun Sentinel reporters Sally Kestin and Bob LaMendola report that, despite the myriad initiatives and protocols launched in the dozen years since a landmark report thrust medical errors into the headlines, little progress has been made in actually reducing the toll taken by medical errors.

“I don’t really see any improvement in patient safety,” said Dr. Arthur Palamara, a Hollywood vascular surgeon and advocate for safer practices. “Unfortunately, despite all the protocols that were put in place, the adverse incidents, the wrong-site surgeries still keep happening at the same rate.”

A long list of technological advances and a national emphasis on preventing mistakes “hasn’t made a difference,” said Douglas Dotan, chief executive of CRG Medical, a Houston firm that sets up error-prevention systems…

They found that, while some progress has been made, even the most aggressive hospitals have found it difficult to crack the exceeding complex web of human and mechanical interactions that make errors possible.

These findings, which have become a depressingly predictable event, are built in part on research published in the April, 2011 issue of Health Affairs, a publication to which AHCJ members are granted free access.

AHCJ resources on patient safety

Regulations failed to slow cosmetic surgery deaths

Bob LaMendola and Sally Kestin, of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, report that regulations put in place a decade ago have not reduced the number of deaths related to cosmetic surgery in Florida.

They report that at least 32 people have died in the past 10 years soon after having cosmetic surgery – including “four South Florida mothers in their 30s who went under the knife in the past two years,” according to state incident reports and police records. The causes of death among the 32 people included poor medical care, reactions to anesthesia and heart and breathing problems.

A Sun-Sentinel series in 1998 by Fred Schulte and Jenni Bergal revealed 34 deaths in the preceding 12 years, some of which were “blamed on lengthy surgeries involving multiple procedures at doctors’ offices that were not then being regulated.” (Full disclosure: I was responsible for the online presentation of that series.)

Following the series, the Florida medical board put in place rules that limited lengthy operations, liposuction procedures and overnight stays and included regular inspections.

LaMendola and Kestin point out that the atmosphere around cosmetic surgery has changed in the intervening years:

One reason for the continued deaths may be a huge growth in cosmetic surgeries, but some surgeons, malpractice attorneys and industry experts say problems persist, and the state needs to do more.

Failing Fla. transplant program misled media, employees, patients

Writing in the The Florida Times-Union, reporter Jeremy Cox used public records requests to find that a kidney transplant program at a local safety net hospital had been at risk of closure by federal regulators prior to its abrupt closure in January. It had “failed to meet six of 12 federal standards.”


Image from Wikimedia Commons

Furthermore, Cox writes, the records revealed “that hospital officials intentionally misled local media outlets about the full extent of the program’s breakdown. In a memo to Shands spokesman Dan Leveton about how to address the media, Steven Blumberg, vice president of planning and business development, said, ‘If asked, we will say that a program with low volumes is not economical to operate and that quality can be ensured with higher volumes.'” That statement, of course, makes no mention of looming federal intervention or a failure to meet basic quality standards.

Cox’s writeup should serve local reporters well as a sort of “anatomy of a failed transplant program,” as he delves into the regulatory process and exactly where the hospital went wrong.

For those of you who were, like myself, unfamiliar with the institution, Cox writes that “Shands is run by a private not-for-profit company, but it is widely seen as Northeast Florida’s safety-net hospital. The city of Jacksonville gives the facility about $23 million a year to care for the city’s poor, and it gets millions more from the state.”

Fla. juvenile justice system relies on heavy antipsychotic use

In looking into the state Department of Juvenile Justice’s use of powerful prescription antipsychotics, The Palm Beach Post‘s Michael LaForgia “analyzed department drug purchasing information and state Medicaid billing data and reviewed thousands of pages of DJJ inspection reports, drug company disclosure records and court documents.” It shows, as he surfaces with some powerful numbers and equally alarming anecdotes (Part 1, Part 2, Infographic).

…in state-run jails and residential programs, antipsychotics were among the top drugs bought for kids – and they routinely were doled out for reasons that never were approved by federal regulators, a Palm Beach Post investigation has found.

A key concern is that the prescriptions may be driven by their improper use as chemical restraints, or by the hefty speaker (and related) fees being paid from pharmaceutical companies to the most prolific prescription writers. Unfortunately, specifics are hard to come by as most homes are run by private contractors and the state doesn’t have the resources for close monitoring. For this story, the reporters were only able to obtain two years worth of data for 25 jails and three programs – a fraction of the statewide total. Those data still paint what LaForgia calls a “startling story.”

A look at the sheer numbers of drugs purchased … suggests a startling story is unfolding in state homes for wayward kids.

In 2007, for example, DJJ bought more than twice as much Seroquel as ibuprofen. Overall, in 24 months, the department bought 326,081 tablets of Seroquel, Abilify, Risperdal and other antipsychotic drugs for use in state-operated jails and homes for children.

That’s enough to hand out 446 pills a day, seven days a week, for two years in a row, to kids in jails and programs that can hold no more than 2,300 boys and girls on a given day.