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Entries in Rx (19)

Tuesday
Mar052013

Apps Could Mean Cheaper Prescription Drugs at Your Fingertips

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- After ABC News' “Real Money” piece last week on saving thousands on prescription drugs, many of ABC News' viewers inquired about how easy it was to use the money-saving apps suggested by expert Michelle Katz.

So, Katz, a health care advocate, joined up with the ABC News team again and Doug Hirsch, the CEO of the popular app GoodRx.

Here’s how the app works: Type in the drug and your location and the app will look for coupons as well as the best price for the drug in your area. Download the coupons to your smartphone or print them out from the GoodRx website.

GoodRx.com also provides the pharmacy’s number and gives directions to get there.

Using the GoodRx app, the “Real Money” team found that in the Santa Monica area, where California retiree Lynda Bezdek lives, prices ranged from nearly $15 to almost $150 for a 30-day supply of 40 mg of the generic brand of Lipitor.

“It’s shocking,” Bezdek said.

The “Real Money” team learned that medication prices depended on numerous variables, such as a pharmacy’s contract with each drug supplier, discounts and coupons.

Although the Food and Drug Administration monitors the products, Hirsch said the agency does not regulate price, so consumers have to pay whatever the pharmacy charges — at times a 20 percent to 80 percent price difference for the same drug.

Thanks to GoodRx, though, Bezdek was able to cut her prescription bills in half, saving $2,280 on her medication.

“I am not tech savvy and I think this [the app] is very easy to use,” she said. “That’s real money.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Monday
Feb252013

Saving Money on Prescription Drugs

Comstock/Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Of the 47.9 percent of Americans who take prescription drugs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most would like to save on their monthly medication bill.

Cari and Andrew of Lake Worth, Fla., who asked that their last names not be used to protect their privacy, certainly fall into that category.

Cari has Crohn’s disease and requires monthly infusions. Additionally, her son Jared is on a growth hormone, and other members of the family take medicine for high cholesterol and high blood pressure. When the couple’s insurance company recently pulled the plug on some of their prescription drug coverage, they were facing a $20,000 monthly bill.

To help Cari and Andrew save money on their prescriptions, ABC News brought in Michelle Katz.  Katz is a health care advocate, nurse and author of Healthcare for Less: Getting the Care You Need Without Breaking the Bank and Life Tips: 101 Health Insurance Tips.

Want to learn how to slash those prescription drug bills? Katz suggests these tips:

1.   Check your bill, like you would at a restaurant.


Believe it or not, there are codes for your drugs, and billing departments often get them wrong. In seconds, ABC News found one of those wrong codes on Cari and Andrew’s bill. The couple was being charged for a higher-priced drug. Fixing the code immediately saved them $1,200.

2.   Arm yourself with the Low RX App.

Did you know that drug prices fluctuate like gas prices? The app tells you what the average cost is for a particular drug and its generic, and arms you with the phone numbers of every pharmacy in your area. You can call other pharmacies to comparison shop. The app also shows discounts.

“You can get up to 75 percent off in some cases,” said Katz.

3.   Go to big wholesalers, even if you’re not a member.


The Low RX app told ABC News to go to Costco, and as it turned out, by law you could buy your prescription drugs there even if you weren’t a member. ABC News found one of Cari’s drugs at Costco for $100 less than elsewhere.

4.   Negotiate.

If you do go to smaller mom-and-pop pharmacies, you can wheel and deal to bring the price down. Bringing cash can increase your bargaining power. Instead of paying $30 for a prescription at a local pharmacy, Cari secured the same prescription for $12 -- an $18 savings.

5.   You can go directly to the big drug companies.


Katz called and emailed large drug companies on behalf of Cari and Andrew. She kept at it for weeks, providing proof of the family’s financial situation and even suggested that Cari might have to stop buying its particular drug altogether.

6.   Visit Needymeds.com.


Needymeds is a nonprofit group that offers grants, vouchers and patient assistance through its website.

7.   Use an RX Access discount card.


Together Rx Access offers savings on brand-name and generic prescription products to individuals and families without prescription drug coverage, according to its website.

With the help of Michelle Katz, Cari and Andrew lowered their monthly prescription drug bill from $20,000.19  to $1,252.28, saving them $18,747.91. And that’s real money.

 

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

Friday
Sep282012

FDA: Beware Buying Prescription Drugs Online

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A moving target of as many as 40,000 active online pharmacies, a huge majority of them fly-by-night start-ups, may sell products at a cut-rate price but they may also deliver expired, contaminated and fake drugs that can harm consumers, the FDA said Friday.

"You have no guarantee of the safety, efficacy or quality of those products," Dr. Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, told ABC News. "You want to go to an online pharmacy that is licensed, located in the United States, [and] importantly, that will ask for a prescription from a doctor."

On Friday, the FDA launched BeSafeRx, a national campaign to alert consumers to the possible dangers of buying pharmaceuticals online.

"This a real problem. In fact, it is a growing problem, it is a problem that we are doing everything we can ... to try and protect the safety and security of the drug supply chain," Hamburg said. "The consumers have a role to play, as well, and that's why we want them to be informed about how to recognize a safe and legal online pharmacy so they can get those drugs that they really do need."

In May, the FDA surveyed more than 6,000 adults and found that almost a quarter of Internet shoppers bought prescription drugs online, and three in 10 said they weren't confident they could do so safely.

What many consumers don't realize is they are more likely online to get fake drugs that are contaminated or past their expiration date, or contain no active ingredient, the wrong amount of active ingredient or even toxic substances such as arsenic and rat poison.

They could sicken or kill people, cause them to develop a resistance to their real medicine, cause new side effects or trigger harmful interactions with other medications being taken.

Just how easy is it to set up an online pharmacy?

Two University of California, San Diego medical researchers showed ABC News how they set up their own fake drug store using search engines, Facebook and Twitter to draw potential buyers, and no pharmaceutical degree or any medical license, is required to set up any of these websites.

Timothy Mackey, a doctoral student in the joint doctoral program between San Diego State University and the University of California, San Diego created a fake pharmacy in less than 15 minutes and for less than $80.

"We basically created a Web app which is very descriptive and has a medical professional, a picture of a person that we just purchased, and we were able to post it online without any verification or requirements at all," Mackey said.

A hit-and-run pharmacy is lightning fast to start and even faster to disappear -- all before authorities can catch up.

"The bad guys know when they're getting chased, so they just shut down with a minute, and then literally within another hour they've set themselves right back up again," said Brian Liang, head of the Center for Patient Safety at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. "What it's telling us is that there's clearly no enforcement, and Facebook and others in this space are making money off of illicit drug sales."

Liang and Mackey said their mock sites saw more than 1,000 unique users in the 10 months they were active. The outgoing links they included went to a "dead page," and they did not actually sell any pharmaceuticals.

While there are some legitimate online pharmacies, about two percent according to the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies, how can you tell which are legitimate and which are fake?

According to the FDA, watch out for sites that ...

1. ... allow you to buy drugs without a prescription;
2. ... offer deep discounts that seem too good to be true;
3. ... send unsolicited emails offering cheap drugs;
4. ... are located outside of the United States, beyond the reach of regulators.

"If you find out about the website because of spam or unsolicited email, be very, very careful," Hamburg said. "If the price is bedrock cheap and it seems too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. And if it is not located in the United States and it's offering to ship drugs worldwide, another red flag; don't go there."

Liang added that when they were searching for online pharmacies, the first 10 pages of hits was comprised entirely of fake pharmacies, and they did not come to a legitimate site until page 10 in the Google search results.

The new "BeSafeRx" website allows consumers to check a pharmacy's license through state boards of pharmacy, as well as providing tips for shopping online and seeing the signs of a fake pharmacy.

"We want consumers to be able to get safe, effective, high-quality drugs," Hamburg said. "And if they want to order them online that is terrific, but use a safe and legal online pharmacy."

"The important messages," Hamburg added, "are have a prescription, know your online pharmacy, make sure it is safe and take your medication as directed."

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy also recommends only using Internet pharmacies accredited through Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites or Vet-VIPPS program. It also provides a listing of "Not Recommended Sites."

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
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

Wednesday
Apr112012

Rx Drug Scam Uses DEA Identities to Terrify Victims into Paying Up

Hemera/Thinkstock(FORT WORTH, Texas) -- The websites seem so simple, so inviting -- buy prescription diet pills or sleep aids without a prescription. But it could be a trap.

A few clicks on certain websites can lead to phone calls that sound like this: "This is officer James Kashin. If you and your wife don't call me back you are going to jail."

Or this: "This is special agent David Brown. We are going to bring you in, in custody, with criminal charges for medication from overseas."

It's all part of an elaborate scam, including the alleged law enforcement phone calls.

According to DEA officials, criminal scam artists first sell prescription drugs online through websites they sometimes operate. After customers input their personal information and make a purchase, the criminals can use the information to blackmail and extort them.

Scammers pose as federal drug enforcement agents, even use actual agents' names, when they make threatening phone calls to thoroughly scare their marks, but then the fake agents offer their victims a lifeline. The caller tells his victims that they have a choice -- either they pay up by a certain deadline and their names will be cleared, or they will be charged as suspects in a criminal investigation and face jail time.

"Basically he wanted me to pay $1,500," said Kesha Howell, a victim of the scam.

"He's got you in such a panic state that by the time he offers you the money, I mean really, that's a no-brainer. Just tell me how much and if I can afford to do it, I'm in," said Darren Dutil, another victim.

Victims of this scam say the phone calls sound authentic and are genuinely terrifying because the person on the other end has all of their personal information.

"He was very calm, cool, but very intimidating. He knew things about me. He had legit information on me and that's what was so scary," Howell said.

"I was ready to call my wife and kids and say, 'Hey look, see you all later. I'm obviously going to be gone for a while,'" Dutil said.

Another victim, who didn't want his name revealed, said he got a call from the scammers and fake DEA agents actually showed up at his house in suburban Fort Worth, Texas.

"They pulled up in a black SUV, right there at the driveway. Two white males got outside, stood beside the truck, and a slender 5-10, 5-11 black male came toward me with black wavy hair," he said.

In the end, he said he didn't fall for the scam, but he admitted he came close.

But Carolyn Sirek, a legal secretary from Joshua, Texas, fell into the trap and accepted the buyout option after receiving the scamming calls. According to her husband Dan Sirek, Carolyn went into a local Walmart and wired the scammers the money through Western Union.

"It depleted our savings account, let's put it that way," Dan Sirek said.

Very often, after one payment, the scammers come back for more. Carolyn Sirek was apparently so upset and scared about what happened that she shot and killed herself in her backyard. Her husband said he found her with a bullet hole in her chest.

Thousands of victims, many of whom have paid the scammers, have called the DEA hotline for help. Officials believe several of these people have shelled out thousands of dollars in the extortion and that the operation is being run out of the Dominican Republic.

The DEA has indicted 11 Dominican men, but as of yet, those men have not been arrested. Agents told ABC News they are working with the Dominican government to have the suspects extradited to the United States, and are investigating other groups operating similar scams.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Apr062012

Pharmacies Fueling Prescription Drug Trade?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The prescription drug trade is booming and the Drug Enforcement Administration believes some rogue pharmacies could be fueling the epidemic.

On Friday, the DEA confirmed that it is now investigating Walgreens, the nation’s biggest drugstore.

In Florida, six Walgreens stores were investigated after inspectors spotted a major red flag, a huge spike in the amount of the highly addictive painkiller Oxycodone the stores were ordering from distributors.

One of the stores under scrutiny bought 95,000 doses in 2009 and over 2.1 million doses in 2011, about 30 times the amount a typical pharmacy would buy.

Two Florida CVS pharmacies with similar massive purchases were recently banned from selling painkillers altogether after the DEA determined there was “imminent danger to the public health.”

Both pharmacy chains have said they are cooperating with the DEA.

The DEA fears rogue pharmacies could be illegally filing prescriptions for greedy doctors involved in black market distribution networks, or selling painkillers directly to addicts.

The potential profits are huge. One estimate put the number of prescription drug abusers at seven million.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr042012

New Rx Sleep Drug: Promising or Perilous?

iStockphotos/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Your eyes snap open, but the room is dark and the alarm clock reads 2 a.m.

It's a frustrating but all-too-familiar scenario for many. A new sleep aid called Intermezzo, available in pharmacies with a prescription starting on Thursday, aims to address this problem. The Food and Drug Administration approved Intermezzo in November, but some physicians have questioned its usefulness and safety.

Forty-two percent of Americans reported waking up in the middle of the night, according to the 2008 Sleep in America Poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, and 29 percent said they found it difficult to fall back to sleep. Known as middle-of-the-night insomnia, it is the most common form of insomnia, the survey reported. Other sleep aids on the market were designed to be taken before falling asleep, and work for eight hours, which is great if your problem is not being able to get to sleep but not so great if you wake up at, say, 3 a.m., and have only a few hours left of shut-eye.

Purdue Pharma, the company behind Intermezzo, said the new pill could be taken by those who wake up mid-sleep and may have only four hours or so left to doze. This makes it the only FDA-approved drug for middle-of-the night insomniacs. The drug contains zolpidem tartrate, the same active ingredient in the popular prescription sleep aid Ambien, but at a lower dose. It is also taken in a different way. Whereas Ambien is swallowed, Intermezzo is left to dissolve under the tongue, so it works more quickly.

But some doctors said Intermezzo's side effects may be considerable. Since the drug is in the same class as previous sleep aids, it carries with it all of the same potential side effects, including behavioral disturbances, sleep walking and possible worsening of depression or suicidal thoughts.

Worry that the drug could negatively affect a person's ability to drive in the a.m. held up FDA approval of Intermezzo for roughly two years. In highway driving studies conducted in 2010, those who had taken Intermezzo were found to be impaired for up to three hours. Driving was deemed safe at the four-hour mark, although there was still a small difference between drivers who'd taken the drug and those who had not.

"I would probably use this drug in patients who not only had four hours of sleep remaining but could also afford to wait an additional one to two hours before driving," said Dr. Stanley Wang, a cardiologist and director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Heart Hospital of Austin in Texas, in an email to ABC News.

Whether having Intermezzo on the market will lead to more consumption of prescription sleep drugs is a matter of debate. In 2010, medications containing zolpidem tartrate, the most common ingredient in sleeping aids, were collectively the 15th most-popular prescription drug in the country, with more than 38 million prescriptions dispensed, according to pharmaceutical data firm IMS Health.

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