Policies Reducing Prescription Opioids Have Limited Effect on Overdose Deaths

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
"Opioids" by KSRE Photo is licensed under CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0Dr. Qiushi Chen
(first author) and
Jagpreet Chhatwal PhD
Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School
Senior Scientist, Institute for Technology Assessment
Massachusetts General Hospital

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Opioid overdose epidemic is a national public health emergency — in 2017, more than 49,000 people died from overdose. Our study shows that under current conditions, the number of deaths is projected to increase to 81,700 by 2025. Efforts to curb the epidemic by reducing the incidence of prescription opioid misuse — the primary focus of current interventions — will have a modest effect of 3-5% reduction in overdose deaths.

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Reporters Covering Drugs Should Include 1-800-662-HELP In Their Stories

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Dr-John W. Ayers

Dr. Ayers

John W. Ayers, PhD MA
Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health
Department of Medicine, University of California
San Diego, La Jolla

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? 

Response: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration national helpline (1-800-662-HELP) is the only free, federally managed and endorsed US drug treatment referral service, helping callers find the best local services that match their needs. Are millions suffering simply because they are not aware that lifesaving help is a phone call away?

In our new study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, Mark Dredze, Alicia Nobles and I delved into Americans’ engagement with 1-800-662-HELP following singer Demi Lovato’s July 24, 2018 hospitalization for a reported overdose that on-the-scene investigators originally linked to heroin. Lovato has since recovered.

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More Pharmacies Willing To Dispense Naloxone Without Prescription

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Kirk Evoy, PharmD, BCACP, BC-ADM, CTTS
"Wolf Administration Holds a Press Conference Expanding Access to Naloxone" by Governor Tom Wolf is licensed under CC BY 2.0Clinical Assistant Professor
 College of Pharmacy, The University of Texas at Austin
Adjoint Assistant Professor
 School of Medicine, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
Ambulatory Care Pharmacist
 Southeast Clinic, University Health System
 UT Health Science Center at San Antonio
Pharmacotherapy Education and Research Center
San Antonio, TX 78229 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? 

Response: Previous studies in Indiana and New York City, and the similar study in California published alongside ours identified that, despite the fact that laws designed to increase naloxone access had been in place for 2-3 years, patients were still not able to obtain naloxone without first seeing a doctor in many pharmacies.

Our study showed contrasting results to the previous studies, with a much higher proportion of pharmacies stocking naloxone and stating their willingness to dispense without an outside prescription. Among the 2,317 Texas chain community pharmacies we contacted, 83.7% correctly informed our interviewers that they could obtain naloxone without having to get a prescription from their doctor before coming to the pharmacy.  We also found that 76.4% of the pharmacies had at least one type of naloxone currently in stock. Continue reading

Not All Pharmacies Have Naloxone for Opioid Overdose in Stock

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Talia Puzantian,  PharmD, BCPP Associate Professor of Clinical Sciences,  School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Keck Graduate Institute 

Dr. Puzantian

Talia Puzantian,  PharmD, BCPP
Associate Professor of Clinical Sciences,
School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences
Keck Graduate Institute  

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Naloxone has been used in hospitals and emergency rooms since the early 1970s. Distribution to laypersons began in the mid-1990s with harm reduction programs such as clean needle exchange programs providing it, along with education, to mostly heroin users. In the years between 1996-2014, 152,000 naloxone kits were distributed in this way with more than 26,000 overdoses reversed (https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6423a2.htm).

We have data showing that counties in which there was greater naloxone distribution among laypeople, there were lower opioid death rates (Walley AY et al BMJ 2013). However, not all opioid users at risk for overdose will interface with harm reduction programs, particularly prescription opioid users, hence more recent efforts to increase access to laypersons through pharmacists. Naloxone access laws have been enacted in all 50 states but very little has been published about how they’ve been adopted by pharmacists thus far. One small study (264 pharmacies) from Indiana (Meyerson BE et al Drug Alcohol Depend 2018) showed that 58.1% of pharmacies stocked naloxone, only 23.6% provided it without prescription, and that large chain pharmacies were more likely to do so.

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Amphetamine-Related Hospitalizations Skyrocket Costing $2 Billion per Year

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Tyler Winkelman MD, MSc   Clinician-Investigator Division of General Internal Medicine, Hennepin Healthcare Center for Patient and Provider Experience, Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute Assistant Professor Departments of Medicine & Pediatrics University of Minnesota 

Dr. Winkelman

Tyler Winkelman MD, MSc  
Clinician-Investigator
Division of General Internal Medicine, Hennepin Healthcare
Center for Patient and Provider Experience, Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute
Assistant Professor
Departments of Medicine & Pediatrics
University of Minnesota 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Trends in amphetamine use are mixed across data sources. We sought to identify trends in serious, problematic amphetamine use by analyzing a national sample of hospitalizations.

Amphetamine-related hospitalizations increased over 270% between 2008 and 2015. By 2015, amphetamine-related hospitalizations were responsible for $2 billion in hospital costs. While opioid-related hospitalizations were more common, amphetamine-related hospitalizations increased to a much larger degree. After accounting for population growth, amphetamine hospitalizations grew 245% between 2008 and 2015, whereas opioid-related hospitalizations increased 46%. Amphetamine-related hospitalizations were more likely to be covered by Medicaid and be in the western United States compared with other hospitalizations. In-hospital mortality was 29% higher among amphetamine-related hospitalizations compared with other hospitalizations. 

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Illicit Drug Use Spikes During Special Events

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Bikram Subedi, PhD Assistant Professor of Analytical Chemistry Murray State University, Murray KYBikram Subedi, PhD

Assistant Professor of Analytical Chemistry
Murray State University, Murray KY

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: The USA is one of the major consumers of diverse neuropsychiatric and illegal drugs, and recently declared a national public health emergency on opioid abuse. Law enforcement typically utilized conventional methods of determining drug consumption rate which are based on survey questionnaire, hospital admissions, drug-related crime statistics, and self-reported information. Conventional methods typically underestimate the actual consumption rate of drugs.

Our new approach of determining consumption rates of drugs in community is time and cost effecting and comprehensive. Based on levels of drugs quantified from raw sewage, the per capita consumption rates of several illicit drugs including methamphetamine, amphetamine, cocaine, and THC in two communities of Western Kentucky (similar population and only ~50 miles apart) were significantly different. During special events such as July 4th and 2017 solar eclipse, the consumption rates were found even higher. The consumption rate of methamphetamine was among one of the highest ever reported in the country.  Continue reading

Pregabalin Linked To Increased Risk for Opioid-Related Deaths

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Tara Gomes, MHSc Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, St Michael’s Hospital, The Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy Department of Health Policy, Management, and Evaluation University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Tara Gomes

Tara Gomes, MHSc
Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, St Michael’s Hospital,
The Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences
Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy
Department of Health Policy, Management, and Evaluation
University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Pregabalin is a medication increasingly being prescribed to manage pain, however there is emerging evidence that this drug may increase one’s risk of opioid overdose when prescribed with opioids.

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Potentially 70,000 Opioid-Related Overdose Deaths Undercounted

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Jeanine M. Buchanich, Ph.D. Research associate  Professor in the University of Pittsburgh Graduate  School of Public Health’s Department of Biostatistics

Dr. Buchanich

Jeanine M. Buchanich, Ph.D.
Research associate
Professor in the University of Pittsburgh Graduate
School of Public Health’s Department of Biostatistics

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: In the U.S., cause of death codes are assigned by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) using information reported by the coroner or medical examiner completing the death certificate. Drug-specific overdose deaths are identified by the contributory causes of death, which are categorized as “T codes” and are assigned based on the specific drugs recorded by the coroner or medical examiner completing the death certificate. A code of T50.9 means “other and unspecified drugs, medicaments and biological substances.”

My colleagues and I extracted death data by state for 1999 through 2015 from the NCHS’s Mortality Multiple Cause Micro-data Files. We grouped overdose deaths into opioid-related, non-opioid-related and unspecified codes. In five states – Alabama, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi and Pennsylvania – more than 35 percent of the overdose deaths were coded as unspecified.

We then calculated the change in percentage of overdose deaths that fell into each category from 1999 to 2015 by state. In those 17 years, opioid-related overdose deaths rose 401 percent, non-opioid-related overdose deaths rose 150 percent and unspecified overdose deaths rose 220 percent.

This allowed us to extrapolate how many of the unspecified overdose deaths were likely opioid-related. By our calculations, potentially 70,000 opioid-related overdose deaths were not included in national opioid-related mortality estimates since 1999 because coroners and medical examiners did not specify the drug that contributed to the cause of death when completing the death certificates.  Continue reading

Buprenorphine Exposures Among Children and Adolescents

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Gary Smith, MD, DrPH Director, Center for Injury Research and Policy Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus, OH

Dr. Smith

Gary A. Smith, MD, DrPH
Director, Center for Injury Research and Policy
Nationwide Children’s Hospital
Columbus, OH

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Buprenorphine is a prescription opioid medication commonly used to treat opioid use disorder. From 2005 to 2010, the annual number of individual patients who received a buprenorphine prescription increased from 100,000 to more than 800,000. Although buprenorphine is important for the treatment of opioid use disorder, pediatric exposure to this medication can result in serious adverse outcomes.

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Concurrent Opioids and Benzodiazepines Raise Risk of Overdose, esp. Early On

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Inmaculada Hernandez, PharmD, PhD Assistant Professor of Pharmacy and Therapeutics University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy Pittsburgh, PA 15261

Dr. Hernandez

Inmaculada Hernandez, PharmD, PhD
Assistant Professor of Pharmacy and Therapeutics
University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy
Pittsburgh, PA 15261

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Prior research has found that taking opioids and benzodiazepines simultaneously increases the risk of overdose by 2 to 3 fold, when compared to opioid-use only.

However, prior to our study, it was unclear how the risk of overdose changes over time with the concurrent use of opioids and benzodiazepines.

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Most Patients Who Survive Overdose Do Not Receive FDA Approved Medications for Opioid Use Disorder

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Marc R. Larochelle, MD, MPH Assistant Professor of Medicine Boston University School of Medicine Boston MA

Dr. Larochelle


Marc R. Larochelle, MD, MPH

Assistant Professor of Medicine
Boston University School of Medicine
Boston MD 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: In this study we examined more than 17,000 individuals who survived an opioid overdose in Massachusetts between 2012 and 2014.

We were interested in identifying how many went on to receive one of the three FDA-approved medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD), and whether or not they were associated with mortality.

We found that only 3 in 10 received MOUD and that receipt of buprenorphine and methadone were associated with 40-60% reduction in all-cause and opioid-related mortality.

We found no association between naltrexone and mortality though the confidence of this conclusion is limited by the small number who received naltrexone in this cohort.

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Most Opioid Overdose Patients Can Be Discharged After Brief ER Visit

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Frank Scheuermeyer MD MHSc Clinical Associate Professor Department of Emergency Medicine St Paul’s Hospital and the University of British Columbia

Dr. Scheuermeyer

Frank Scheuermeyer MD MHSc
Clinical Associate Professor
Department of Emergency Medicine
St Paul’s Hospital and the University of British Columbia 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Mortality from the opioid epidemic is dramatically increasing and a main culprit appears to be illicit fentanyl. Current research states that patients with presumed fentanyl overdoses are at high risk of deterioration and death, and require prolonged emergency department stays or hospital admission to ensure a safe outcome.

Our inner-city hospital adopted a protocol initially developed for patients with heroin overdose, modified it to account for the greater potency of fentanyl, and studied 1009 consecutive patients who arrived with an overdose.

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Mortality From Overdose, Alcohol and Firearms Varies Regionally

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Dr. Laura Dwyer-Lindgren PhD Assistant Professor at IHME Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation 

Dr. Dwyer-Lindgren

Dr. Laura Dwyer-Lindgren PhD
Assistant Professor at IHME
Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

 Response: This study in the latest in a series of studies IHME has conducted on health and disease on the county level in the United States. We analyzed data provided by the National Center for Health Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau, and other sources. Main findings include:

  • Nearly 550,000 deaths were attributed to drug use over the 35 years. Nationally, the age-standardized death date increased 238% between 1980 and 2000, and 112% between 2000 and 2014. The death rate from drug use disorders increased in every county, but some counties in Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and eastern Oklahoma has increases exceeding 5000%.
  • There were more than a quarter million deaths in the U.S. due to alcohol use; Western counties generally has higher levels than those in other parts of area of the nation, with especially high death rates in Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Alaska.
  • Neatly 1.3 million suicides were recorded, with especially high rates in Alaska, Nevada, South Dakota, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Wyoming and one county in Maryland. While the national death rate due to suicide decreased between 1980 and 2014, there was an increase in the death rate due to suicide in most counties.
  • More than three quarters of a million deaths by homicide occurred in the US between 1980 and 2015. Nationally, the age-standardized death rate due to homicide decreased by about 35% between 1980 and 2000, and by nearly 16% between 2000 and 2014. Counties with the largest decreases were found in Virginia, Florida, Texas, California and New York. 

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Medicaid Patients Who Overdose Likely To Get More Opioids

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Julie M. Donohue, Ph.D. Associate professor in Pitt Public Health’s Department of Health Policy and  Management and Director of the Medicaid Research Center Pitt’s Health Policy Institute University of Pittsburgh

Dr. Donohue

Julie M. Donohue, Ph.D.
Associate professor in Pitt Public Health’s Department of Health Policy and
Management and Director of the Medicaid Research Center
Pitt’s Health Policy Institute
University of Pittsburgh 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Medicaid enrollees have three times higher risk of opioid overdose than non-enrollees, and for every fatal opioid overdose, there are about 30 nonfatal overdoses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). My colleagues and I analyzed claims data from 2008 to 2013 for all Pennsylvania Medicaid enrollees aged 12 to 64 years with a medical record of a heroin or prescription opioid overdose and who had six months of continuous enrollment in Medicaid before and after the overdose claim. The 6,013 patients identified were divided into two groups—3,945 who overdosed on prescription opioids and 2,068 who overdosed on heroin, all of whom received treatment for overdose in a hospital or emergency department setting.

We found that Pennsylvania Medicaid recipients who suffer an opioid or heroin overdose continue to be prescribed opioids at high rates, with little change in their use of medication-assisted treatment programs after the overdose. Opioid prescriptions were filled after overdose by 39.7 percent of the patients who overdosed on heroin, a decrease of 3.5 percentage points from before the overdose; and by 59.6 percent of the patients who overdosed on prescription opioids, a decrease of 6.5 percentage points.

Medication-assisted treatment includes coupling prescriptions for buprenorphine, methadone or naltrexone—medications that can reduce opioid cravings—with behavioral therapy in an effort to treat the opioid use disorder. Our team found that such treatment increased modestly among the patients using heroin by 3.6 percentage points to 33 percent after the overdose, and by 1.6 percentage points to 15.1 percent for the prescription opioid overdose patients.

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Opioid Overdose Associated With Even Higher Health Care Costs Than Dependence or Abuse

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Jaren Howard, PharmD, BCPS Associate Director, Medical Affairs Strategic Research Purdue Pharma L.P.

Dr. Jared Howard

Jaren Howard, PharmD, BCPS
Associate Director
Medical Affairs Strategic Research
Purdue Pharma L.P.

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: The existing scientific literature estimating the healthcare burden of opioid misuse disorders often combines all patients within the broad category of “opioid abuse,” defined as opioid abuse, dependence, or overdose/poisoning.
Collectively, these three conditions can significantly increase healthcare costs among commercially insured patients.

• Real world medical coding practices present challenges to researchers aiming to separately analyze excess costs by diagnosis, though combining these diagnoses may mask some variation in excess costs.

• Furthermore, little is known about the specific drivers of excess costs in terms of medical conditions driving excess costs or places of service at the diagnosis-level.

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Surge in Fentanyl Deaths in Florida and Ohio Linked to Illicitly Manufactured Opioids

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Alexis B. Peterson, PhD

Alexis B. Peterson, PhD

Alexis B. Peterson, PhD
(Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer)

R. Matthew Gladden, PhD Surveillance and Epidemiology Team Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Dr. R. Mathew Gladden

R. Matthew Gladden, PhD (Behavioral Scientist)

MedicalResearch.com What is the background for this study?

Response: In March and October 2015, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued nationwide alerts identifying fentanyl, particularly illicitly manufactured fentanyl, as a threat to public health and safety. During 2013-2014, Ohio and Florida reported significant increases in fentanyl-involved overdose deaths (fentanyl deaths) and fentanyl submissions (drug products obtained by law enforcement that tested positive for fentanyl).

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50-100 times more potent than morphine. The University of Florida and the Ohio Department of Public Health with CDC assistance compared trends in fentanyl deaths, fentanyl submissions, and fentanyl prescribing during January 2013–June 2015.

In-depth review of medical examiner and coroner reports of fentanyl deaths occurring in Ohio’s 14 high-burden counties were performed to identify circumstances surrounding fentanyl overdose death.

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Illicitly-Manufactured Fentanyl Contributing To Increasing Numbers of Heroin Deaths

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
John Halpin, MD, MPH, Medical officer
Prescription Drug Overdose Epidemiology and Surveillance Team
CDC Injury Center

MedicalReseach.com editor’s note: Dr. Halpern discusses the CDC alert of August 25, 2016 regarding the increase in fentanyl-related unintentional overdose fatalities in multiple states.

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this alert?

Response: The current health alert is an update to a previous alert in October, 2015 from CDC which described the geographic spread of states in which forensic labs were increasingly detecting fentanyl in the drug submissions that they receive from law enforcement, and how many of these same states were beginning to report fentanyl-related overdose deaths by their departments of public health.

Further investigation by CDC and DEA have revealed that the great majority of fentanyl now present in the illicit drugs market is clandestinely-produced, and most commonly mixed with and sold as heroin, and is responsible for the great majority of fentanyl-related overdose deaths. Indications at the time of that alert pointed to a likely continuous rise in the supply of illicitly-manufactured fentanyl, and the potential for increasing numbers of fentanyl-related overdose deaths, particularly among those who use heroin.

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