Posts Tagged ‘drug diversion’

Diversion of Prescribed Medications

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I hope all my readers had a great holiday.

I followed my own advice about avoiding burnout and took eleven days off work. That’s the most days in a row that I’ve taken off for many years, and it was great. I went on a short but fun cruise of the Bahamas, during which I rested, spent time with family, read, ate great food, and tried to tan. (I know the sun is not a friend to the skin of pale people, but I just wanted a tiny bit of color. Instead, I think I bleached out to a lighter shade of pale.)

I also took a vacation from blog-writing, so I looked at previous blog entries I’ve written but never posted, to have something for my blog this week.

Toward the end of last year, I was intrigued by an article in my local newspaper. The newspaper published a story about the arrests of thirty or forty local residents on drug-related charges on the front page. In this article, a representative of the county’s Sherriff’s office narcotics unit said he estimated that ninety percent of people arrested for illegally selling prescription pain pills got them from doctors outside the county.

That seemed odd to me. My perception, shaped as it is by my work in the county’s only opioid addiction treatment program, has been just the opposite – that physicians in the area prescribe a great deal of the illegally sold controlled substance pills.

Indeed, I would be idealistic if I assumed that none of my own patients have ever sold their buprenorphine take home doses, despite my best efforts to prevent this.

Curious, I asked our state’s Injury and Violence Prevention branch of the NC Division of Public Health about how our county compares with other counties, in number of prescriptions written per capita. This last part is important, because more heavily populated counties have higher numbers of prescriptions, but only because there are more people living in the county.

One of the epidemiologists wrote me the next day, and said in 2014, there were 280 controlled substance prescriptions written for every 100 people living in my county. This compared with a state-wide rate of 201 controlled prescriptions per 100 people. He said that while our county was in the top 20 counties for number of controlled substances prescribed per capita, it was not number one in the state.

Since opioid treatment programs do not report any data to state prescription monitoring programs, none of my prescribing data would be captured in this information, with the exception of a dozen office-based buprenorphine patients I see in this county. Patients in office-based addiction practices do have their prescriptions reported to the state’s prescription monitoring website.

Anyway, back to my county’s prescribing rate…The prescribing rate quoted above is for all controlled substances, not only opioids. It includes opioid pain pills, benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Klonopin), potentially addicting sleeping pills (zolpidem, or Ambien), and stimulants (amphetamines like Adderall, also Ritalin, Provigil, Nuvigil).

So the county has one of the highest prescribing rates of the state. That doesn’t necessarily mean any of the prescribed medications are diverted to the black market. However, past studies do show that higher prescribing rates are associated with higher diversion rates. But perhaps this county is different, as the sheriff’s office stated.

Furthermore, mere numbers can’t tell us if doctors are prescribing appropriately or not. Perhaps people living in my county have a higher-than-normal need for opioids, benzodiazepines, sleeping pills, and stimulants…

Food for thought, which I haven’t completely digested yet.

 

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Film Review: Suboxone

I had a chance to get more information about the new Suboxone film. I’ve decided I like it. It looks like one of those Listerine breath strips, and dissolves like one, too. When placed under the tongue, it dissolves faster than the tablets, but the taste is apparently about the same. The drug company’s representative brought me an inert (no active drug) film that’s supposed to taste exactly like the real thing. It was orange-flavored and bitterly sweet. While not terrible, it wasn’t tasty. But it was bearable. It dissolved very quickly, an advantage over the tablets.

I was concerned that my patients on 4mg or 12mg couldn’t use these films, as I heard they couldn’t be cut. But the drug company rep said the drug was evenly distributed on the film. Though the company’s official position was the film shouldn’t be cut into halves or fourths, it would probably work.  But she also reminded me that the drug company also says that about the tablets, but my patients use half-tabs frequently with no ill effects.

I don’t see any way the film can be snorted, though some creative and intelligent addict will probably find a way.

The films are contained in individual sealed pouches. Each pouch from the same box has the same number on it, meaning it would be very difficult to “fake” a pill (film) count if the doctor asked a patient to return to the pharmacy to make sure the appropriate amount of medication remains. If films from another box are substituted to make the count right, they will have different numbers. Very clever of the drug company. Oh, and the rep said the film would cost the same as the Suboxone tablet.

The film is available in pharmacies willing to stock it. If you are on Suboxone and want to try the film, be sure to ask your pharmacy to order it a few days before you think you will want to fill a prescription, to make sure they’ll have it.

I hope this delivery form is easier for patients and harder to divert or snort.