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Prescription Drugs

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

‘Pill mill’ ban clears House committee

A bill intended to crack down on ‘‘pill mills’’ in Georgia passed a key House committee unanimously Monday, after stirring testimony from a northwest Georgia coroner and a suburban Atlanta police chief.

House Bill 178 would put pain management clinics under the regulation of Georgia’s medical board, which would issue licenses to their operators. And after June 30, any new pain clinic would have to be physician-owned — a requirement similar to other states’ laws.

A similar bill died last year on the final day of the General Assembly.

Georgia has a major pill mill problem, said the legislation’s lead sponsor, Rep. Tom Weldon (R-Ringgold), at a hearing of the House Health and Human Services Committee. That’s partly because neighboring states, including Florida, have passed tougher laws against pill mills, which dispense controlled drugs such as oxycodone, Xanax and hydrocodone.

Many of these clinic operators have recently moved to Georgia to set up shop, a recent Wall Street Journal article reported.

“We’re known as the doughnut hole when it comes to pain management,’’ said Weldon, an attorney. full story

Georgia Bio’s Craig to step down

Charles Craig, who helped develop Georgia Bio into a prominent player in the health and science sectors of the state, is stepping down as the group’s president at the end of the year.

Under the leadership of Craig, who became its president in 2005, Georgia Bio has expanded membership to include 200 life sciences-related organizations.

The life sciences industry includes companies involved in biotechnology, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, diagnostics and agricultural science. The industry and related university research, along with the CDC, have a $20 billion annual economic impact on the state and produce more than 94,000 jobs, a recent UGA report said.

“I want to want to pursue new opportunities that will enable me to apply my bioethics training and professional experience as a biotech industry leader,” said Craig, a former journalist. “This is an exciting and challenging time for our industry.”

He told GHN that he was honored that Georgia Bio had helped raise the profile of the state’s life sciences industry and establish it as one of the leaders in the nation. full story

New pricing puts some ‘miracle’ drugs out of reach

Caroline Kulinski

Caroline Kulinski

Caroline Kulinski was diagnosed five years ago with multiple sclerosis, and she went from working as a software trainer to being in constant pain, needing a cane to walk.

“I could no longer tie my shoes,’’ she recalls.

But a drug that she tried, after four others proved unsuccessful, had an almost miraculous effect on her condition. Tysabri, one of the newer “biologic” medications — complex mixtures made from living organisms — slowed down her disease and allowed healing to occur, says Kulinski, a Chamblee resident. She was able to cook again, play the piano and do other tasks.

“It allowed me to have my life back,’’ she says. Now she’s pregnant, with her baby due in December.

But Kulinski still has a major fear. She worries that she won’t be able to afford the drug much longer.

Currently, it costs her $750 a month. But if her health plan goes to what’s called “specialty tier’’ pricing for members, it could cost her $3,000 a month, Kulinski says.

An increasing number of health plans have gone to different pricing for biologic drugs, causing patients’ out-of-pocket costs to rise by hundreds of dollars per month.

Kulinski joined patient advocates, health care professionals, industry officials and others at a Wednesday forum at Emory University to promote awareness and an advocacy campaign to address the issue of biologic drug pricing. Their goal is to get action on the issue from the state Legislature. full story

Agency urges restricted use of some scarce drugs

The Georgia Department of Public Health has asked EMS providers to reserve certain medications for the most critically ill patients, amid a shortage of drugs to treat people in emergency situations.

The state agency is also exploring whether extending expiration dates on medications can serve as a remedy for the EMS drug shortages, which are occurring nationwide.

Public Health has formed a committee to identify the most needed medications. The agency is requesting that the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials create a national list of these drugs, and their doses and forms, to encourage pharmaceutical companies to produce more of them.

The state response to shortages of drugs used by ambulance crews comes in a letter sent Friday from the Public Health commissioner, Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, to the chairman of the Georgia EMS Medical Directors Advisory Council.

Earlier this month, Dr. Robert Cox, chairman of the advisory council, alerted the public health agency to the problems caused by the shortages. Cox’s letter, obtained by Georgia Health News, said the EMS drug shortages posed a ‘‘real danger to our patients today, without relief in sight.’’ full story

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