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Entries in Medication (32)

Monday
Jan212013

Invention Would Track Meds in Mentally Ill Patients, but Is It Ethical?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Imagine if doctors could add something to their mentally ill patients’ pills so that they could tell on their smartphones whether the patients were taking the pills as prescribed.

Inventor Don Spector has actually filed a patent that would do just that, and he did it after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, which sparked a national debate about mental illness and privacy.

“This isn’t house arrest, but it is an invasion of privacy to some extent,”  Spector, Chairman of the Board of Trustees at New York College of Health Professions, said of his invention.  “But on the other hand, these are really people who shouldn’t be released without medication.”

New York University bioethicist Arthur Caplan said many technologies monitor drugs, but they can only be used in specific settings.  For instance, many companies require their employees to submit to urine drug tests as a condition of employment.

“Without a court order, it’s difficult to make anybody have to go along with drug testing unless it becomes a condition of employment,” Caplan said, calling it a potential civil liberties issue.  “For a mentally ill person or someone on drugs for mental illness, monitoring them might be nice, but you probably are still going to need to get some kind of judgment or legal order before you can use the technology.”

He said it reminds him of forcing people found guilty of sex crimes to undergo chemical castration because of the consent issues involved.

Still, a mental health worker was stabbed to death in Oregon last May delivering medicine to a patient at home.  Brent Redd, 30, whose mental illness was kept private because of patient confidentiality laws, stabbed 38-year-old Jennifer Warren with a kitchen knife after he lowered his doses of antipsychotic and antidepressant medications for an upcoming surgery.  Five years earlier, Redd had been sentenced to 20 years in a psychiatric ward following the attempted murder of his mother, but was conditionally released into community care.

“Presumably, he had received treatment that made mental health professionals believe he was no longer at risk for violence,” said Dr. Ken Robbins, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison at the time.  Robbins was not involved in Redd’s care.

Though monitoring of medications could have helped in a case like Redd’s, Caplan said there’s a slippery slope regarding which patients should be included in a monitoring program.  It could be limited to patients convicted of violent crimes, or patients who could become violent, or patients who could become disruptive -- which could turn to violence -- and so on.

“It gets into trouble very quickly that way in terms of wide use,” Caplan said.

Caplan added that even patients taking their medication can be provoked and act out violently, meaning the monitoring system wouldn’t guarantee safety.  He also wondered whether the invasion of privacy would discourage patients from taking their medications, fueling the battle to convince people who are mentally ill to take their prescriptions.

Spector said a patient could carry the pill with the tracker on it in their pocket and trick the program, but he suggested out a way to deal with that.  Somehow, the trackers could be designed to tell if the pill has dissolved in the bloodstream.

Since patent applications are sealed for 18 months after they’re filed so that inventors can’t steal each other’s unpatented ideas, Spector said he couldn’t explain how the “markers” in the pills would work to transmit information about whether they’d been ingested.

“I will say this: It’s not very hard technology to do,” he said.  “It’s a major difference in the way we monitor, but the technology is not going to be all that difficult to do.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Oct042012

FDA Asks for Voluntary Recall of Popular Generic Antidepressant

J B Reed/Bloomberg News(NEW YORK) -- The FDA's reversal earlier this week of its approval of a generic equivalent of the popular antidepressant Wellbutrin XL 300 ends a five-year saga that began with consumer complaints and a crusade by Joe Graedon, the co-founder of the consumer advocacy group the People's Pharmacy.

In 2007, Graedon began receiving disturbing complaints on his website from patients who had been taking the 300 mg dose of Wellbutrin and had recently switched over to the generic equivalent Budeprion XL 300. Budeprion products are sold by Teva Pharmaceuticals and made by Impax Laboratories, both headquartered in Philadelphia.

"People were saying, 'I've been on Wellbutrin for several years and things were fine and dandy, but once I was switched I started experiencing headaches, anxiety, depression and sleeplessness,'" he said. "People who had never been suicidal were all of a sudden reporting suicidal thoughts."

At first Graedon said he was skeptical. But after he had received a few dozen messages, he decided to write about it in his syndicated newspaper column. That's when the floodgates opened: Soon more than a thousand messages poured into the People's Pharmacy website describing the same symptoms, in intimate detail.

Alarmed, Graedon contacted Consumer Lab, an independent testing group based in White Plains, N.Y, and asked them to evaluate the 300 mg dose of the generic pill. The findings of the Consumer Lab tests suggested that while the active ingredient in the generic Budeprion XL 300 mg and brand-name Wellbutrin XL 300 mg products was identical, the rate at which it was released differed.

"In the first two hours of a dissolution test, we found Budeprion released 34 percent of the drug, while Wellbutrin released eight percent. At four hours, the Teva product released nearly half of its ingredients, while original Wellbutrin released 25 percent. The generic did not act like a once-a-day formula but more like an immediate release formula," Dr. Todd Cooperman, Consumer Lab's president, stated.

Cooperman said the problems arose because of an unusual circumstance where the patent on the drug itself had expired, making it available in generic form, but the time-release mechanism used in the original did not. The original pill has a membrane so that the drug seeps out over time. The Teva pill simply breaks apart.

Consumer Labs and the People's Pharmacy took their concerns to the Food and Drug Administration and requested information on the human drug trials that companies are typically required to submit for drug approval. After what Graedon described as "a lot of back and forth," the FDA revealed that the 300 mg product had never undergone bioequivalence testing even though this is typical agency protocol. Instead, their approval was based on tests of a 150 mg version of the drug.

Graedon said although it's well understood that different dosages of drugs frequently don't have the same results and can produce varied side effects, the agency stood by its approval of the 300 mg dose of the generic. However, they asked Teva to voluntarily perform its own trials involving people who had reported problems.

Citing difficulty recruiting subjects, the company never performed the tests. Then in 2010, the FDA took the unusual step of conducting its own independent trial of 24 subjects. It found that the maximum concentration of Budeprion XL 300 in the blood reached only 75 percent of the amount Wellbutrin XL 300 released.

"This discrepancy in dosage could render the drug less effective in treating depression and could explain the side effects we were hearing about," Graedon said.

When results of the trials became available recently, the agency sent both Teva and Impax communications asking them to voluntarily withdraw the drug from the market. Both companies have complied with the request.

FDA spokesperson Sandy Walsh stressed that this is not a recall, which is typically done when a drug is unsafe.

"This is a voluntary market withdraw by the company for a drug that may not work well for some people. It is one type of generic Wellbutrin XL in the 300 mg strength only, made by Teva. This does not impact the other manufacturers or the 150 mg strength pills," Wash said.

The agency estimates that only about two percent of people taking a 300 mg dose of a generic version of the antidepressant take the Teva pill. They have asked other manufacturers of generic 300 mg dose versions of Wellbutrin to conduct their own studies and submit their data no later than March 2013.

But is this voluntary recall just the tip of the iceberg? Does it mean there could be other generics in wide use that are either unsafe or ineffective? Dr. Harold Koenig, associate professor of psychiatry and medicine at Duke University said he doesn't believe this is the case.

"Most generics work just fine and are as effective as the name brand. And they are a lot cheaper. So you cannot say, based on what happened with this one drug, that we should throw out all generics," he said.

However, Koenig said he thought the FDA's actions were significant. "It might open up a can of worms if this is the first time the FDA took their own look at the effectiveness of generic versus name brand. It could lead to a lot of other drugs being studied," he said.

For his part, Graedon said he is happy with the result even if it was a long time in coming.

"It took us five years and an awful lot of arm wrestling to help the FDA make this decision, but this is really a historic moment. If you think of prescription drug use in America, generics account for about 75 percent of them, and until yesterday the FDA has maintained they are identical to brand names."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Sep192012

MS Patients Might Benefit From New Oral Drug

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Thousands of Americans who suffer from multiple sclerosis (MS) might one day be able to take advantage of a drug that new research suggests is both safe and effective.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic and often disabling disease that affects nearly 400,000 people in the United States. It attacks the protective substance called myelin that covers the nerve fibers of the brain and spinal cord.

Myelin is similar to the insulation of a wire and ensures proper nerve function. Once the myelin is damaged, the disease can also damage the nerve fibers themselves, leading to scars in these delicate tissues.

This damage leads to symptoms as mild as tingling in your feet and fingers, or as severe as paralysis or blindness. Eighty-five percent of MS patients are diagnosed with what is called relapsing-remitting MS, which means they experience flare-ups of symptoms, followed by partial or complete recovery.

A team of researchers looked at nearly 1,500 patients in 28 countries taking the experimental oral drug, known for now by the name BG-12, to see whether such flare-ups decreased, as well as whether they experienced any side effects from the treatment. The patients were studied for two years.

The results were encouraging. Overall, the patients receiving the experimental drug did better than the placebo group. Those who took the drug twice daily cut their chances of experiencing a flare-up by 44 percent, while those taking it three times a day reduced their chances by 51 percent. By comparison, the researchers wrote, a drug currently used for MS only cuts flare-up rates by 29 percent. Additionally, an MRI scan revealed that patients taking BG-12 had fewer scars on their nerves and brain.

If it is more widely used, the drug might offer hope to a large number of patients. If approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, BG-12 would join two other oral medications on the market for MS.

"There is a great need for effective oral agents with acceptable safety profiles for MS patients with mild disease," said Dr. Lawrence Samkoff, associate professor of neurology at the University of Rochester in Rochester, N.Y., who was not involved with the study. "These newer oral medications will inaugurate a new era in the treatment of relapsing MS, giving patients and their physicians more choices."

Samkoff added that while BG-12 has some mild side effects, including flushing and an upset stomach, such symptoms tended to decrease within one month of taking BG-12.

Still, more research might be needed before BG-12 becomes more widely available, even after this two-year study.

"[Two years] is the standard these days, but the question is: is it adequate?" said Dr. John Corboy, professor and director of the department of neurology at the University of Colorado. "[It] is quite long in general, but very short when you consider the typical duration someone has MS."

Dr. Timothy Coetzee, chief research officer of the National MS Society, agreed. "As with any new therapy, it's important to do follow-up studies to understand the impact of the treatment over the long term," he said. "This will help us gain more specific knowledge of the long-term impact of this treatment on the immune system as well as the nervous system."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jul092012

Law Offers Drug Companies Vouchers in Exchange for New Cancer Drugs for Kids

Nancy Goodman/Kids v. Cancer(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama signed a bill Monday that will provide incentives to drug companies to research and develop drugs for rare diseases.

The Creating Hope Act grants pharmaceutical companies that create drugs for diseases like childhood cancers a voucher giving speedier review of any other drug they submit for approval.

The Oval Office signature was a hard-fought victory for children like Mollie Ward, 11, who survived a rare form of pancreatic cancer thanks to an experimental drug, and for other families who have fought childhood cancers.

Nancy Goodman, founder of Kids v. Cancer, which is devoted to pediatric cancer research, lost her son Jacob Froman, 10, to a rare form of brain cancer nearly four years ago.  He’d been diagnosed at the age of 8.

She was instrumental in getting the bill passed. She and others said that drug companies had little financial incentive to develop new treatments because childhood cancers are so rare.

“The reason I started working on the Creating Hope Act was that I found very early on that there are just very few drugs to treat kids with cancer,” she told ABC News. “We created a big, fat carrot. The carrot is a voucher.”

While 50 new drugs for adult cancer have been released in the last 20 years, just one expressly for pediatric cancer has gotten initial Food and Drug Administration approval, doctors say.

The track record for drugs for other pediatric rare diseases is even worse.

“The reason that companies don’t make pediatric drugs is all market force driven,” said Dr. Henry Friedman, an neuro-oncologist at Duke University Medical Center. “Companies have an obligation to their shareholders to make money. The pediatric diseases by and large are such low numbers. …The incentive to make pediatric drugs is very small.”

Goodman said the measure was smart legislation and an attempt to ensure that more families don’t experience what she has.

“I don’t think the American public realizes how devastating pediatric cancer is,” she said. “It’s far worse than any other adult cancer. There’s something unfair and unjust about the death of a child.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
May302012

Fake Adderall Sold Online Gets FDA’s Attention

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Beware of fake versions of ADHD medication Adderall that are being sold on the Internet, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned.

The agency issued the warning Tuesday after receiving complaints from the manufacturer Teva Pharmaceutical Industries that the 30 mg tablets, which do not even resemble the authentic version, were being sold online under the company name, FDA spokesperson Shelly Burgess told ABC News.

Adderall is approved by the FDA to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) and narcolepsy.

“We issued the warning to warn the public of the risks of buying from Internet sellers,” said Burgess.

The agency, which conducted lab tests on some of the counterfeits, found the counterfeit version did not contain the correct active ingredients for Adderall.  Instead, it contained acetaminophen and tramadol, which are used to treat acute short-term pain.

Since there is no tracking system for rogue websites that sell fake medication, it is unclear how many people have bought the imitations online.

The nationwide shortage of Adderall in pharmacies may have led some to purchase the medication on the Internet. The FDA’s website lists many dosages of Adderall manufactured by Teva pharmaceuticals have been in short supply since at least October 2011.

According to the FDA, counterfeit Adderall may be white instead of orange, contain no markings on a tablet, and come in a blister package. There may also be misspellings on the package.

Trustworthy websites are licensed by state board of pharmacy and contain a list of the boards on the site. The site should also have a licensed pharmacist available to answer questions the consumer may have. Sound websites also require prescription verification before dispensing any pharmaceutical medication.

“If it offers dramatically low prices from market value, this is a red flag,” said Burgess.

Anyone who suspects they have purchased the counterfeit version should stop taking the medication and report any side effects to the FDA’s MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program, said Burgess.

The agency is grappling with how best to regulate rogue online sites that sell fake and potentially harmful medications. The FDA can issue warning letters to the sites highlighting its unsafe practices, but are not able to ensure that it can be stopped.

“These sites can shut down and pop back up under a different name the next day,” said Burgess.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
May092012

How Do Docs Prescribe Kids’ Meds? Guess 

Comstock/Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- The last time your doctor gave you a prescription, it likely came with specific information on the correct and safe dosage to take, determined from years of clinical trials. But when kids need certain prescription drugs, such as statins, morphine, anesthetic or the asthma drug prednisone, doctors sometimes have to guess how much to give them based on the child’s weight.

The reason, described in a report published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is that about half the prescription drugs commonly given to children have no information on appropriate pediatric doses on their labels.

Researchers from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration studied drugs listed in the Physicians’ Desk Reference, the bible of FDA-approved drug labeling, and counted the number of drugs that came with guidance for use in children, including the appropriate dosage.  Of 461 drugs in the PDR that were for children, 231 had the adequate information doctors would need to prescribe the drug to a child.

For the 105 brand-new drugs approved by FDA between 2002 and 2008 that could potentially be used in children, 43 had pediatric information on the labels.

“You can’t get a product approved in adults without studying how it affects them first,” said Dr. Dianne Murphy, one of the study’s authors. “But children are routinely being given products that are not studied in them.”

The study is part of an effort to increase awareness that prescription drugs are often not tailored to kids’ unique biology. In April, Harvard researchers reported that four out of every five children hospitalized in the U.S. are treated with drugs that have never been tested in children and are FDA-approved only for adults.

For newborns, the picture is even grimmer.  About 90 percent of drugs have never been tested for use in infants.

Dr. Florence Bourgeois, the author of that study and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard, said that about 60 percent of common conditions such as asthma and lower respiratory infections occur in children, but only 12 percent of the clinical trials currently testing drugs look at how they work in children specifically.

So when kids need these drugs, their doctors usually just have to guess how much to give them, usually gauging it against their weight. But kids are not just little adults. The way the liver, kidneys and other organs work to metabolize drugs is far different in early life.

“In some instances, extrapolating adult drug dosage to children might be appropriate, but again, without specific trials to assess that, we simply don’t know,” Bourgeois said.

Experts said testing drugs in children is simply more complicated and costly for drug companies. Clinical trials of children have their own ethical issues and often the science used to study adults doesn’t apply to children. For example, it’s difficult or impossible to get infants and children to breathe into a spirometer to study their asthma.

But alarming as it may seem to parents with sick kids, the situation used to be a lot worse. Dr. Daniel Frattarelli, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Drugs, said even though half of drugs have dosage information for children, it used to be that only about 20 percent did.

The improvements are largely the result of two laws, passed in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Pediatric Research Equity Act allows the FDA to require drug companies to do additional testing of their products on children if the drug is likely to be used widely in pediatrics. The Best Pharmaceuticals for Children Act gives incentives for drug companies to test their products on children, such as giving them an additional six months of marketing exclusivity.

Both laws are up for congressional reauthorization in 2012, and experts say they are essential to getting more information about appropriate dosage of drugs in children.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Apr282012

Study: Parents with Poor Math Skills More Likely to Give Incorrect Dosages of Medication 

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A new study reveals that parents with poor math skills are more inclined than others to give the wrong dosages of medicine to their children, Health Day reports.

Out of the study's 289 parents, who had children younger than eight years old and had been prescribed a short course of liquid medication after visiting a pediatric emergency center, 83 percent had poor math skills, and 27 percent had math skills at the third-grade level or below, according to Health Day.

Researchers found that parents with math skills at or below the third-grade level were almost five times more likely to give incorrect dosages of medication than parents with math skills at the sixth-grade level or higher, says Health Day. Overall, 41 percent of the parents made mistakes.


The study is being presented on Saturday at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Boston.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr192012

One-Third of Cancer Patients Don't Get Drugs They Need for Pain

Pixland/Thinkstock(HOUSTON) -- As many as one-third of cancer patients may be receiving inadequate treatment to control their pain, even though many medicines are available to help, new research suggests.

Pain is one of the most-feared and worst symptoms of cancer.  As disease progresses, pain can become completely debilitating for cancer patients.

Dr. Michael Fisch, lead author of the study and chair of the department of general oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, said he undertook the research to get a better grasp on how many cancer patients need pain control and assess the current methods.

"We didn't understand enough about how people are being treated," he said.

In the largest U.S. study of its kind to date, Fisch and his colleagues looked at more than 3,000 patients for over a month who suffered from invasive cancerous tumors of the breast, prostate, lung, colon or rectum.  The patients, who were undergoing treatment at 38 different medical institutions, completed a 25-question survey, and researchers recorded the medications they were taking.

The researchers then determined the adequacy of the patients' pain management using a scale that compared the patient's symptoms of pain to the strength of medication they were taking.

At the start of the study, two-thirds of patients required medication to manage their pain.  The researchers found that of these patients, one-third were taking insufficient medications to control the pain they were experiencing.

Thirty days later, when they repeated the questionnaire and examination of the patients' medications, the situation had not improved; the percentage of patients who reported that their pain was undertreated was roughly the same.

"Past studies just looked at one snippet in time, so we wanted to see if improvements are made once the patient has good follow-up," says Fisch.  "This shows there is still work to be done,"

Surprisingly, physicians in the study were aware of the problem; in fact, for decades, doctors across the country have been aware that undertreated pain among cancer patients is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Given the constantly changing and progressing symptoms of cancer, doctors say that managing the associated pain can be difficult.  What may be successful pain management for a cancer patient on one day may not suffice the next.  Or the medication could become more than needed.

In the study, about 30 percent of the patients who were initially undertreated did gain control of their pain over the month-long study.  But 10 percent of the patients who were originally treated appropriately lost control over their pain by the follow-up visit.

Another problem that doctors face is objectively determining how much pain a patient is actually experiencing.  The commonly asked pain assessment question -- "What is your pain on a scale of one to ten?" -- often does not paint a complete picture, doctors say.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr182012

'OFF LABEL': Tribeca Film Captures Our Insatiable Appetite for Prescription Drugs

Andy Duffy(NEW YORK) -- Andy Duffy's first encounter with the world of drugs was as an Army medic at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where he forced resistant prisoners to endure excruciating pain.

Sgt. Duffy says superior officers ordered him to inject the veins of prisoners with 14-gauge needles to hydrate -- and to intimidate -- them during hunger strikes.

"These needles are used for really massive trauma…not in the veins but to put a hole through the chest to relieve pressure," he said.

The Iowa City boy had signed up just days after his 17th birthday -- March 19, 2003 -- in the midst of war lust after 9/11.

Then in a 2006 attack by rebels, shrapnel tore apart his lower right flank and back as Americans readied to hand the prison over to Iraqi authorities. "They mortared us instead," said Duffy.

Many of his fellow soldiers never made it back. Duffy did in October of 2006, but with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a mountain of prescription drugs that he says only made him worse.

"It was obvious altering the chemicals in my brain was not the answer," he said. "My [PTSD] was not an imbalance, but from an experience."

Now, Duffy's journey is told in a quirky but powerful documentary about eight Americans whose lives are ruled by pharmaceutical drugs.

In the film OFF LABEL, directors Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher investigate the epidemic of skyrocketing use of medication, following such disparate characters as human guinea pigs in drug testing, a former pharmaceutical rep and a mother who blames a drug study for her son's suicide.

Though the characters never interact, "they speak as one voice, coming up from the depths of the margins of American society," said Palmieri.

The documentary, which follows the directors' 2009 film October Country, premieres April 19 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

The directors owe much of their research and inspiration to Carl Elliott, associate professor at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota and author of Better Than Well: American Medicine Meets the American Dream.

"It is an astonishingly moving, lyrical film that also manages to be very funny," said Elliott, who has been critical of America's insatiable appetite for drugs. "I loved everything about it. There is more humanity in this film than anything I have ever seen or read about pharmaceuticals."

The film is dedicated to Mary Weiss of Minneapolis, whose son Dan Markingson was admitted in 2003 to a psychiatric hospital with delusions and was prescribed the antidepressant Seroquel by his attending physician, who was involved in the marketing study of that drug.

Weiss said she believed her son was going to hurt himself and begged doctors to take him out of the study.

"He was legal age, so we couldn't," says Weiss in the film. "But he was deteriorating and gaunt and believed he was plagued by devils. He was psychotic."

After five months in the trial, at age 27, Markingson slashed himself to death in a gruesome suicide. "They let him die," says his mother.

Today, because of her efforts, "Dan's Law" was passed in 2009 in Minnesota to protect patients from medical conflicts of interest in clinical trials.

Both Weiss's son and Duffy "speak to crisis side of the issue," said director Mosher. "There is real damage to people and these are the strongest examples. Both of them are the most harrowing examples of abuse of trust by doctors."

The documentary looks at the situation from the industry side, following Michael Oldani, a medical anthropologist who once worked as a drug rep for the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

"Ultimately, we are all implicated, not just the pharmaceutical companies or drug reps or doctors prescribing meds for people," said director Palmieri. "In the end we do need medicine, but the system we all participate in is kind of crazy, where the quick-fix approach is easier, but not necessarily better."

It was that approach at the Veterans Administration that victimizes people like Duffy, according to the documentary.

He was prescribed dozens of antidepressants, sleep aids and anti-anxiety drugs in place of psychological counseling to get over his flashbacks, nightmares and sleeplessness.

Today, at 26, Sgt. Andy Duffy finds psychological support working with fellow veterans.

Even a chimp in a zoo gets behavioral therapy when prescribed drugs for depression, according to the film.

"I was on four meds at a time," Duffy told ABC News. "The drugs were preventing me from moving forward. I basically was numbing myself to escape things."

He ballooned in weight from 140 to 196 pounds and was tired all the time. "I had much more suicidal thoughts with all this medication," said Duffy.

But the VA had contracts with certain drug companies that prevented doctors from adjusting his drugs and long waiting lists to see a psychologist.

"Literally, if there is a medicine that saves a life -- at the VA, if they don't have a contract, you probably are not going to get that drug."

"It was easier and cheaper for the government to dispense out meds," Duffy said.

In a moment of clarity, Duffy went off all medications and was able to quiet his demons by finding the support he needed from other war veterans.

Today, he is going to school to study social work and is active with Veterans for Peace and formed his own group, Veterans Relief.

"I realized that what I really needed was talk therapy," he said. "And it helped me so much. There were so many guys out there with the exact same problem who understood where I was coming from.

"They didn't just give me a sterile answer and shove me on the street with a bunch of pills in my pocket."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Mar222012

Fake Pharmacies Create Drug Shortages

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BALTIMORE) -- University of Maryland head women's basketball coach Brenda Frese is not afraid of challenging authority, especially off the court when it involves her 4-year-old son, Tyler, who has leukemia. Frese was shocked when she discovered that the treatment he required was threatened by a cancer drug shortage.

“Let’s wake up here,” Frese told ABC News. “How many people have to die....It makes me sick to my stomach to think about it.”

So Frese wrote to her congressman, Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and found out that fake pharmacies are one big reason for the shortage.

“What they do is, they horde the drugs and basically create the shortage,” Cummings said. “Not only is it insensitive, it’s criminal.”

Here’s how it works: The fake pharmacy, which is licensed, acts as a middleman. But rather than dispensing short-supply drugs to patients, as their licenses require, they buy drugs from the manufacturer, then sell the drugs to a wholesale company they also own. The wholesale company, which is often at the same address as the fake pharmacy, then offers the drugs to desperate hospitals, often at an even higher price.

Investigators say fake pharmacies sold a $15 vial of cancer-fighting fluorouracil to hospitals for $350.

Congress sent 19 letters to supposed pharmacies across the country this week and are working with state authorities to pull their licenses. North Carolina closed one that never actually saw any customers, and whose shelves had few drugs, only those that were in short supply.

“We’re paying a ridiculous price for many of these drugs, sometimes marked up 100, 200, 300 percent for a drug that we get for a couple of bucks,” said Dr. Jennifer Brandt, clinical specialist pharmacist at Washington Hospital Center.

It’s an illegal action that creates shortages, increases costs and threatens cancer treatments for patients like Tyler Frese.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio