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Prescription Drugs

Feds seek harder line on hydrocodone

The fictional “Nurse Jackie,” in the Showtime series of the same name, is a very competent nurse in a busy emergency room.

She’s also addicted to prescription painkillers: Percocet, Vicodin, OxyContin.

This portrayal of addiction is jarring, but it’s not wildly unrealistic.

Drug abuse among people in the health professions is reportedly about at the same level as among the general population. And abuse of painkillers, the specific problem depicted on the program, is rampant, reaching all segments of U.S. society.

Prescription painkiller Vicodin

Prescription painkiller Vicodin

Last week, the FDA recommended tighter controls on how doctors prescribe the most commonly used narcotic painkillers.

The move follows a long debate over whether the drugs, which contain the narcotic hydrocodone, should be controlled as tightly as more powerful painkillers such as OxyContin.

The drugs at issue contain a combination of hydrocodone and an over-the-counter painkiller like acetaminophen or aspirin and are sold either as generics or under brand names like Vicodin or Lortab.

Rick Allen, director of the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency, said Monday that he believes the switch could help decrease overdoses and addictions to painkillers.

Hydrocodone “is probably the No. 1 forged prescription,’’ Allen said. New rules could help keep “so many large quantities out of the hands of patients,’’ he added. “It’s a pretty big problem.’’ full story

Drug shortages, price spikes affecting care

The young male patient had a diagnosis of chlamydia.

Fran Beall, a nurse practitioner in Athens, prescribed a seven-day supply of doxycycline, a dependable antibiotic that’s long been generic and inexpensive.

medicines and drugsShortly thereafter, a pharmacist called Beall and asked if she could prescribe another antibiotic for the young man, because he had no insurance.

“Why?” Beall asked. “He can’t afford $5?”

“It’s not $5,’’ the pharmacist replied. “It’s $157.’’

Beall called another pharmacist she knew. The cost there was $135. “There’s a big shortage of doxycycline,’’ the pharmacist told her.

Those high prices for doxycycline hyclate stunned Beall, who has been a nurse practitioner for 38 years. She told GHN that for a long time, the drug was easily available and typically cost $4 or $5. In fact, she said, “just a year ago it was even free at the local Publix pharmacy.”

Doxycycline is not the only drug in short supply. Shortages of dozens of critical drugs have persisted in the United States in recent years, with manufacturing problems cited as a major reason. Some of the drugs in limited supply include anesthetics, chemotherapeutic agents, antibiotics, painkillers and intravenous solutions. full story

WellStar joins forces with Walgreens clinics

WellStar Health System and Walgreens announced an agreement Tuesday to collaborate on treating patients who seek care in eight health clinics run by the pharmacy chain in the northwest suburbs of Atlanta.

WellStar said it will help handle patients’ health conditions that require a higher level of care than the Walgreens clinics provide.

image005“We’re interested in expanding our footprint into retail medicine,’’ said Chris Kane, senior vice president of strategic business development for WellStar, which operates five hospitals in Cobb, Douglas and Paulding counties.

Walgreens said Tuesday that it has similar agreements with health systems in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Orlando, Indianapolis and other markets. full story

Saturday is day to turn in old drugs

It’s time to go through those bathroom drawers and cabinets.

Saturday is national Drug Take-Back Day.

Georgia is again promoting the effort to prevent prescription pill abuse. Members of the public are encouraged to rid their homes of expired, unused or unwanted drugs.

The CDC has reported that prescription drug abuse is the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States. Unused drugs in the home can contribute to this abuse, and teenagers are especially prone to misuse pills left in medicine cabinets or drawers.

Some young people use such drugs at parties: They pour several different kinds of pills into a bowl and then take them at random. full story

Southeast seniors get risky meds more often

Seniors in the Southeast take more high-risk medications than their counterparts in other regions, a study has found. Nationally, about one in five people in Medicare Advantage plans take at least one of these dangerous drugs. But in many parts of the Southeast, including Georgia, the percentage of seniors in these plans taking high-risk medications is about one in three.

“Geography really stands out,” Amal Trivedi, associate professor at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School, told NPR. He’s a co-author of the study, published in the April issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

The risky drugs include amphetamines, barbiturates, muscle relaxants and narcotics, plus old-style sedating antihistamines and some medications for depression and anxiety, such as Valium, which can cause apnea and cardiac arrest, NPR noted. Many of the drugs increase the risk of falls.

Sandy Turner of Georgia Regents University, after reviewing the study’s results, told GHN that she was surprised at the high use of dangerous prescription drugs in the Southeast. full story

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