Courts to Decide: Are Pharm Companies Misrepresenting Opiates As “Safe”?

On Tuesday, October 6, 2015, The Suffolk County, New York unanimously voted to sue drug manufacturers for what they call misrepresentation by pharmaceutical companies that the powerful opiates they prescribe are “safe and non-addictive,” according to an article in Newsday.

Image Credit: Pixabay (Public Domain

Image Credit: Pixabay (Public Domain


The county joins the growing ranks of public officials working to hold drug manufacturers accountable for a growing epidemic of opiate drug addiction in America. The legislatures say that the 90% upswing in heroin-related deaths from the years 2000 to 2012 is part of an epidemic of opiate abuse that originates with prescription drug addiction. Legislative representative Rob Calarco, from Patchogue, NY sponsored the bill. Calerco said that drug manufacturers have “misrepresented” to doctors that opioid drugs are safe to treat chronic pain – as well as non-addictive.

Legislator William Spencer, from Centerport, is a physician who is president of the Suffolk Medical Society. He supports the lawsuit and said manufacturers have pressured doctors to recommend the drugs to patients. “We were literally told that these (drugs) were less addictive,” he said.

Due to negligent marketing, lawmakers say, abuse of the drugs the companies manufacture has skyrocketed, taking a toll on families and straining the budgets of emergency services. Cities and counties have not only battled an epidemic level of opiate overdoses and addiction, but a spate of addiction-related crimes as well.

Heroin and Oxycontin addiction have taken a significant toll on communities nationwide. “We’re in the middle of battling a heroin epidemic which is rooted in prescription painkillers,” Calarco said of the lawsuit.

Suffolk joins two California counties, and the City of Chicago – so far – in have filing suit against pharmaceutical companies. A total of five pharmaceutical companies, including Purdue Pharma LP, a company based in Stamford, Connecticut that manufactures the painkiller known under the brand name OxyContin.

Bob Josephson, spokesman for Purdue Pharma LP, painted the accusations as unfair. He told reporters that the company has taken pains to help 400 law enforcement officers from Suffolk by educating them on drug-related issues since 2010. “We have a lengthy record of collaborating with policymakers, law enforcement and public health experts to address opioid overuse and abuse, so it’s unfortunate that a more collaborative path wasn’t chosen,” Josephson said in a statement to the press.

It will be up to the courts to decide in the matter. A court date has not yet been set for the action.

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In Vermont, Addiction Increases Child Abuse, Neglect Cases

Like many states across the US, Vermont is battling an increase in opiate addiction that is wreaking havoc in families in communities across the state, and research has shown that it comes at a high price for children. According to VTDigger, Vermont courts have seen a 62% increase in the number of cases of childhood abuse and neglect, and the cases are on the rise as more people in the state fall victim to the disease of addiction.

Image by: Pixabay (Public Domain)

Image by: Pixabay (Public Domain)

Opiate addiction is a “big piece of the neglect problem and a big concern for Vermont,” Traci Sawyers, an early childhood health expert at nonprofit Building Bright Futures, told VTDigger.

Even more alarming: Up to 70% cases considered by the Department for Children and Families (DCF) that involved children below the age of 3 were tied to opiate abuse in the immediate family, according to DCF’s 2014 Child Protection Report.

The uptick is an alarming trend that has been amplified in the past several years. In 2002, there were only 12 babies born that had been exposed to opiates at local hospital Fletcher-Allen Health Center. Fast forward ten years and the number had increased to 136. Without a shadow of a doubt, the addiction epidemic is taking a toll on families, especially vulnerable children. The origins of the child abuse and neglect cases, according to research, is primarily addiction-related. Cited by social workers in official paperwork, substance abuse issues in the family were mentioned twice as often as financial stress, another leading cause of abuse and neglect of children.

And while many addicts aren’t purposefully hurting their kids, neglect can be just as damaging to children in their formative years as physical abuse. A 2012 Harvard University study revealed that neglect is capable of causing more harm to a child’s development than physical trauma. This is related to a near-constant level of what researchers call “toxic stress” that is a result of having unfulfilled basic needs – such as affection, regular meals, and assistance with daily hygiene.

Dr. Jim Hudziak, director of the University of Vermont’s Center for Children, Youth and Families, told VTDigger that he would like to see less court time and more treatment and recovery options for families struggling with the disease of addiction. “It would be better to help the parents by treating their drug addiction and teaching them to parent than to send them into the correctional system. It makes more sense to help the whole family,” said Hudziak.

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Oxycodone and Hydrocodone: Use, Abuse and Treatment.

A single OxyContin tablet can sell for $80 or more on the street

Oxycodone and hydrocodone, two similar sounding generic prescription drugs, are narcotic pain medications that are being abused at epidemic levels in the United States and Canada.

Oxycodone, which is sold under the brand name OxyContin and used in Percocet and Percodan, is a powerful analgesic designed specifically for severe pain disorders. It has highly addictive properties. Hydrocodone, which is an ingredient in Vicodin, is another painkiller that is frequently prescribed for moderate to severe pain for everything from toothaches to backaches. Both medications are subject to abuse and may cause fatal overdose when mixed with alcohol, other drugs or when taken in amounts exceeding recommended dosages.

OxyContin is a time-released formula of oxycodone that was introduced in 1995 as a Schedule II drug. It is a synthetic opioid that is very similar to morphine. OxyContin gained national attention in 2003 when conservative radio talk host Rush Limbaugh admitted that he was addicted to it. Since then, detox centers and pain management specialists have focused on helping patients withdraw from the deadly addictive medication.

Hydrocodone is a Schedule III controlled substance, which means that a prescription for the drug can be phoned in or faxed to a pharmacy. Schedule II controlled substances, such as Oxycodone, can only be obtained with a hard copy of a prescription and there are no refills. One must get a physician’s approval for each prescription of Oxycodone due to its higher potential for abuse.

In addition to traditional treatment approaches, many addiction specialists are hoping that new medications like Suboxone can help those who are addicted to oxycodone or hydrocodone. A relatively new drug, Suboxone is another potent pain medication that is used to help ease withdrawal symptoms. Precaution should be taken when taking this drug as it too has highly addictive properties and must be administered under the supervision of a pain management physician or drug addiction specialist.

Arrest records continue to rise each day as more drug rings, dealers and pill mills reap the grim rewards from other people’s pain and suffering. Even without illegal dealers, there are unethical physicians who routinely write unnecessary prescriptions for these dangerous drugs. We must continue to increase awareness and help those in need, holding on to the hope that a permanent solution for drug addiction will someday be found.

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Are You or is Someone You Love Abusing Prescription Drugs?

Drug abuse is a very serious and dangerous problem. When many people think of drug abuse, they’re picturing illicit drugs like heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine. Another very real form of drug abuse is prescription drug abuse. Prescription drug abuse, to be put simply, is taking a prescription medication that is either not prescribed by a doctor or taken in a way other than prescribed.

An estimated 20 percent of Americans have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons (National Institutes of Health)

Prescription drug abuse cuts across a wide segment of the population, from Hollywood celebrities to the kids taking pills from the family medicine cabinet. OxyContin is the prescription drug that receives the most press coverage, but many other drugs that are also being abused. It could almost be said that if a drug is available under prescription, someone has tried to abuse it.

Most Abused Drugs and Methods of Abuse

These are the three main categories of prescription drugs that are routinely abused:

  • Opioid Painkillers – includes oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxymorphone (Opana)
  • Depressants – includes alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium)
  • Stimulants – includes amphetamines (Adderall), methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta)

There are three ways a person can take a prescription drug. In street terms, they are:

  • Pop it – refers to orally ingesting a pill.
  • Sniff or snort it – refers to crushing a pill into powder form and ingesting it nasally.
  • Cook or shoot it – refers to heating a drug into liquid form and using a syringe to inject it in into the body.

Millions of Americans Abuse Prescription Drugs Each Year

Prescription drug abuse occurs among all ages. A 2009 survey found that 16 million Americans over age 12 reported to have taken a prescription painkiller, depressant or stimulant for nonmedical purposes within the past year. According to a 2011 survey, 7.4% of children and teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 admitted to having used prescription medication for nonmedical purposes.

In 2011, nationwide deaths from prescription painkillers outnumbered traffic fatalities. There we also more deaths from narcotic prescription drugs than from heroin and cocaine combined.

There is some good news related to prescription drug abuse. A recent national survey indicates that roughly 300,000 fewer young adults are abusing prescription medication than in 2010. This declined in abuse among young people seems to show an increasing awareness of the issue. It also could reflect the fact that prescription drugs are becoming more difficult to obtain and abuse. However, there is concern that prescription drug addicts may be switching to illegal drugs. With mounting evidence that the use of illicit narcotics like heroin is on the rise, the nation continues to be faced with a critical drug abuse problem.

Many people think that abusing prescription drugs is somehow safer than illegal drug abuse. This is not the case. If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to prescription drugs, quitting cold turkey may be difficult or medically dangerous. In many cases, residential treatment is the safest solution for prescription drug addiction.

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Relapse Prevention Planning

The decision to quit using alcohol or drugs is an important first step on the path to a new life. The hard work of getting sober follows. Recovery may free you from many of the problems that substance abuse caused in your life, but you will still have to face the everyday stressors and major life changes that everyone must deal with. In the past, you may have dealt with stress and change by drinking or using drugs. That is no longer an option. By thinking ahead and planning strategies for dealing with trigger events, you can be more confident about avoiding relapse on your road to recovery.

A relapse prevent plan can help you stay healthy and avoid substance abuse.

Relapse is a process that begins long before you take a drink or use drugs. Many people in recovery have found that coming up with a relapse prevention plan is an effective strategy for staying healthy and avoiding substance abuse.

A relapse prevention plan that covers the following areas can help you defuse a relapse before it begins.

  • Identifying high-risk situations that you know will tempt you to relapse. Plan in detail what you will do or say when you are in a situation that puts you at risk.
  • Avoiding people who put your recovery at risk.
  • Dealing with stress and problems at home, school or work before pent-up emotions lead to a crisis.
  • Learning relaxation techniques that will help you maintain your equilibrium.
  • Taking time to exercise and eat a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Finding a work-life balance that allows you to fill your spare time with activities that your enjoy and helps you avoid negative feelings like boredom, anger and loneliness.
  • Overcoming cravings to drink or use drugs by relying on the help and support of family, friends or a support group or counselor. Let them know the warning signs of relapse so they can help you deal with stress and trigger events.

According a study published by the National Institutes of Health, the short-term relapse rate for alcoholism and drug addiction recovery can range up to 50 percent. Relapse is more likely to occur during the first 90 days of recovery. During this early recovery period, handling stress can be especially difficult. In general, the longer you are sober, the easier it will become to cope with stress. The risk of relapse will decrease but not completely disappear, making it important to have a recovery prevention plan in place.

Many people who are in the process of relapsing do not see the warning signs. It’s important to surround yourself with people who are concerned about your well being and are prepared to help.

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Slight Drop in Prescription Drug Abuse among Young Adults

Prescription drug abuse in the U.S. has dropped to the lowest level since 2002, reflecting a crackdown on over-prescribing doctors and black market drug dealers.

A crackdown on pills mills and doctor shopping has led to a decrease in prescription drug abuse in the U.S.

Prescription drugs are no longer being abused quite as prominently as they once were, especially by young adults. In fact, the
abuse of prescription drugs dropped to the lowest level since 2002

. Experts are crediting the drop in drug abuse to crackdowns at federal and state levels on doctors who offer prescriptions for profit and on patients who have obtained drugs by visiting pill mills and doctor shopping.

Young adults, who were among the largest group of abusers of prescription drugs, have also showed the greatest drop in abuse. The number of young adults, defined as those between the ages of 18 to 25, who regularly abused prescription drugs went from 1.9 million to 1.7 million, roughly a 14 percent drop. Only 3.6 percent of those abused pain relievers, such as Percocet, or Vicodin.

In 2010, 7 million people used pain killers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and other prescription drugs; this number dropped to 6.1 million in 2011. This illustrates that the increase in public awareness and the stepped up efforts of law enforcement and anti drug officials have decreased the abuse of these drugs, according to Pamela Hyde, an Administrator for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

In 2011, roughly 9% of the American population aged 12 and older admitted to regularly using drugs such as heroin, marijuana, cocaine, and other drugs, including the abuse of prescription drugs. Cocaine abuse has dropped by over a million users between 2006 and 2011, however, the amount of people addicted to pain killers has grown by almost half a million in the same time frame. Heroin use is also on its way up, gaining a substantial 75% user rate in the past four years.

Marijuana is still the most commonly used drug, regardless of age. Alcohol abuse and cigarette smoking has dropped off among young adults since 2008, but marijuana usage has been consistently growing. Children as young as 13 and 14 years old have admitted to using marijuana in the past month, almost 13 percent of them in fact! The number of teenagers who believe that smoking marijuana is risky behavior has dropped in the past four years almost 10%. Either way, these trends should be watched carefully.

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New Mexico Drug Problems

Recently in New Mexico the battle against drug related deaths has become more difficult than ever. New Mexico has the highest drug overdose death rate in the entire nation. This high death rate may be partially due to the fact that the state’s funds and attention have been focused on prevention of other substances of abuse.

Alcoholism and heroin addiction have haunted the state for years, but the drug of choice by addicted individuals has recently switched to prescription drugs. Awareness activism and law enforcement have lagged behind this trend.

New Mexico is Not Immune to the Prescription Drug Epidemic

In a span just short of 10 years the drug overdose rate has jumped 60% in New Mexico, with the majority being prescription drug related. Prescription drug overdose rates now outnumber that of all other

This epidemic in New Mexico is especially worrisome due to the fact that it doesn’t affect one small facet of the population. Prescription drug abuse spans socio-economic, race, gender, and age barriers. There seems to be no end in sight. Not only do many people become addicted to prescription drugs after an injury, prescription drug addiction often leads to more serious drug addictions such as heroin.

A simple injury can turn into a lifetime of addiction. Many users turn to heroin as an alternative when they can’t afford to buy prescription pills anymore. Doctors and politicians are at a crossroads about how to mitigate this issue through legislation. Although limiting access to prescription painkillers would help curve the number of addicts, it would also negatively affect those that are actually in pain and need these prescriptions to live their lives.

Also these restrictions could also push patients to unsafe alternatives such as buying prescriptions through unregulated means. For now, the residents of New Mexico are forced to try and improve drug treatment facilities in order to rehabilitate. Although treatment facilities are overloaded, the staff does what they can to help people with addiction problems. The first step is getting the person battling addiction into treatment as soon as possible.

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Prescription Medication Abuse – A National Crisis

The abuse of prescribed medication is the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States. Prescription drugs are a close second to marijuana on the list of drugs that are abused in the United States. This phenomenon has been classified as an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A national survey showed that approximately 30 percent of people aged 12 and over who experimented with narcotics for the first time in 2009 did so by using a prescribed drug for non-medical purposes.

Some abusers of prescription medication, in particular teens, hold the belief that these substances carry less risk than illicit drugs because they have been prescribed by a doctor and obtained from a pharmacist.

When taken as prescribed for valid medical purposes, prescription drugs are effective and usually safe. However, they are just as dangerous and deadly as illegal drugs when used for non-medical reasons. In the past, opiate overdoses were almost always due to heroin abuse. There is a marked increase in overdoses due to the misuse of prescription painkillers.

Prescription drugs are legal, making them easily accessible, as they are often found at home medicine cabinet. Another recent national survey showed that more than 70 percent of the people who abused prescription pain medication acquired them from friends or relatives, while almost 5 percent got them from a drug dealer or via the Internet.

The most commonly abused prescription drugs can be divided into three classes:

  • Stimulants, including amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall) and methylphenidate (Ritalin)
  • Opioids such as methadone (Dolophine), and hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab)
  • Central nervous system (CNS) depressants including diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax)


What You Can Do:

  • Dispose of prescription drugs in a proper manner. Do not leave them where they can be easily abused.
  • Educate your kids: It’s vital that children learn about the use and abuse of prescription medication.
  • Seek addiction treatment and offer support to those in recovery: If you or someone you know requires help with substance abuse, find a nearby treatment center immediately.

Addressing this epidemic is a top priority for all. It will help build stronger, productive communities and help those with substance abuse problems lead healthier, more prosperous lives.

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Promising News in the Fight against Prescription Drug Abuse

Even Cough Medicine is a Prescription Drug

Although 1.7 million may sound like a big number, it’s not as big as it used to be. That 1.7 million is in reference to the amount of young adults who were first time prescription drug abusers last year. This is according to new study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. According to

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Appalachian Pillbillies

Appalachia is the cultural region that stretches along the famous Appalachian Mountain Trail. If you visit this area, the verdant rolling hills and breathtaking natural landscapes are hard to miss. However, when one looks beneath the beautiful facade, one uncovers a debilitating and dark pattern of widespread prescription drug abuse. Although prescription drug abuse is not an uncommon in other areas around the world, addiction to natural or synthetic opioids or painkillers (such as oxycodone, morphine, codeine, methadone, among others) has reached unprecedented levels in Appalachia. The abuse is so widespread that, in fact, a new term has been coined solely to describe those addicted: pillbillies.

A Typical Appalachian Town

Why are Opiates So Popular in Appalachia?

The high rate of addiction in Appalachia is thought to be caused in part by the pervasive poverty of the area, where the poverty rate is three times the national rate. Unfortunately, the high poverty rate both causes and is caused by the higher frequency of prescription drug abuse. Those who are addicted have trouble maintaining jobs, whereas people who are looking for jobs are likely unable to find many (due to the low number of them due to poor economic growth). This cycle leads to anxiety and poverty, which fuels drug abuse. Kids who were reared by their grandparents because their own parents were abusers are now becoming abusers themselves. In 2011, one out of ten newborn babies tested positive for drugs.
The Obama administration declared plans to combat prescription drug abuse and in 2010 and 2011, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, aided by many local police departments, arrested sixteen people in an investigation given the moniker “Operation Pillbilly“. Investigators discovered that the group of pillbillies arrested had been presenting fake prescriptions to pharmacies over several years in the Appalachian areas of Tennessee and North Carolina. During their tenure, the group has been estimated to have attained 130,000 pills, valued at approximately $4 million. Those arrested shed light on the wide variety of people addicted to prescription drugs: both male and female, ranging in age from early 20’s to late 40’s. All of the sixteen people have been federally sentenced, some with up to six years in prison.

Nationally, the number of deaths caused by prescription drugs has now surpassed the combined death toll caused by crack cocaine in the 1980s and heroin in the 1970s. Too many families have suffered a devastating loss due to prescription drug addiction, and it is time that this country does something to address this ever-growing problem.

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