Tag Archives: prescription drug abuse

Thieves target pharma cargo, cause shortages

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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.

Series, inquest illuminate Canada’s pill problem

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Writing for the reader-funded site rabble.ca with the help of a Canadian Institutes for Health journalism award, Ann Silversides is devoting a four-part series to Canada’s prescription drug problem, declaring the country to be a “world leader in prescription drug abuse.” Canada’s pill problem hasn’t hit the headlines with the vehemence it has in the states, but Silversides says evidence points to Canadian drug abuse that’s every bit as damaging as what’s happening south of their border.

medsPhoto by jypsygen via Flickr.

In the U.S., prescription opioids have been the leading cause of unintentional overdose deaths — far surpassing cocaine and heroin — since about 2001. The same is true in Canada, if the statistics from Ontario hold true for the rest of the country. (There is a striking lack of research in the area of prescription drug misuse in Canada, especially about the progression from use to abuse of these drugs.)

Yet in 2008, Canada had the highest rate per capita consumption of oxycodone in the world, surpassing even the United States, according figures from the International Narcotics Control Board.

The second installment in the series zeroes in on a specific Ontario inquest into two opiate overdose deaths, one which promises to shine a bright light on the nation’s broader struggle with the prescription drug abuse epidemic. Other articles in the series:

Fla. juvenile justice system relies on heavy antipsychotic use

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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.

Veteran journalists speak from front lines of prescription drug epidemic

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

In a subject area increasingly defined by its steady drumbeat of alarming numbers and increasingly dire statistics, the opening to a recent episode of WBUR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook still manages to make even the most jaded readers sit up and take notice.

Prescription drug abuse is sky-rocketing in the United States as accidental overdose deaths now exceed crack deaths in the 1980s. Overdose from prescription painkillers like Oxycontin and Xanax is now the leading cause of accidental death in 17 states.

The show touches upon every point of the prescription drug epidemic, from the pill mills of Florida to the devastated counties of rural Appalachia, where entire generations have been lost. The show is driven by the expertise of guests like Louisville Courier Journal reporter Laura Ungar and The Charleston Gazette‘s Alison Knezevich, both of whom will be speaking at the June 3 lunch session of AHCJ’s upcoming Rural Health Journalism Workshop in St. Louis. The thoughts of these veteran journalists are also supplemented by a unique interactive element, thanks to On Point‘s national reach and call-in format. One example:

On Point caller Michelle in Carter County, Ky., grew up with her mother addicted to prescription medications.

“We would wake up in middle night and have to put her to bed because she was like a zombie,” Michelle said. “It was like no one was there.” Michelle is now going to school to be a drug abuse therapist.

A summary of the show is available online, as is an MP3 of the entire broadcast.

DEA disciplines Fla. physicians; state allows them to continue practicing

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Writing for Health News Florida, Brittany Davis shows the importance of following up on a disciplined caregivers story. In February, the DEA released the names of 32 Florida doctors whose prescriptions, they say, were fueling the state’s notorious pill mills. The DEA suspended the narcotics licenses of those doctors at the time.

In her follow-up, Davis finds that at least four of the physicians are still practicing, five have been arrested, at least 12 have shuttered or moved their practices, and a full two dozen still have clear Florida medical licenses despite the federal action. The disconnect between state and federal agencies, she found, may come down to simple communication problems.

pills
Photo by somegeekintn via Flickr.

[DEA spokesman David Melenkevitz] said the DEA focuses on enforcement, not outreach, and may not necessarily pass on its findings to the [state Department of Health].

“We’re a federal agency and they’re a state agency,” he said. “We work together but operate separately.”

Pat Castillo, of the United Way Broward County Commission on Drug Abuse, said she is “concerned about the disconnect” between the DEA and the DOH.

She’d like to find a way to fill in the gap and help patients get the most updated information on whether their doctors have been in trouble, she said.

“If their DEA licenses are taken away, certainly that’s a red flag,” Castillo said. “Having that kind of information is critical.”

A spokesperson for the state’s Department of Health said that the agency may not “know about the DEA suspensions, or the agency may be conducting its own investigation.”

Reporter examines W.Va.’s drug epidemic

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette‘s Alison Knezevich has geared an in-depth series around the fact that West Virginia has the highest rate of drug deaths in the nation. The overwhelming majority of those drug deaths involved prescription drugs.

In subsequent stories, Knezevich shifted her focus from the abusers to the medical community, beginning with those gatekeepers whose prescription pads are constant reminders that “nearly two-thirds of West Virginians who misuse pain relievers get them from friends or relatives for free.”

The tightrope walk between managing real pain and supplying addicts is such an exhausting one that some doctors fear employment in rural West Virginia clinics. It’s a dilemma faced even by those physicians who specialize in rehab, thanks to a newly popular brand-name drug for recovering addicts.