The Times West Virginian


May 23, 2013

Appropriate rationale, safety go away in face of drug addiction

The No. 1 prescribed drug among Medicare patients in West Virginia isn’t for heart disease, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

No, it’s the very powerful narcotic hydrocodone-acetaminophen, known by brand names like Lortab, Lorcet, Dolorex and Vicodin. A recent report released by ProPublica revealed that in 2010, the most recent data available, doctors wrote 402,159 prescriptions for Medicare patients at a cost of $5.2 million.

But we’re not the only state with a high rate of hydrocodone-acetaminophen prescriptions — it’s actually the third most-prescribed medication in the country. In 2010, 31 million prescriptions were written for Medicare recipients at a cost of $320 million.

It’s unnerving, considering the escalating prescription drug abuse problem we’ve had in the Mountain State in recent years. While hydrocodone-acetaminophen doesn’t have the street value of other narcotic pain medications, like oxycodone, it has street value none the less.

It’s easier to get hydrocodone-acetaminophen than oxycodone, as the former is classified as a schedule-three drug, meaning that doctors can call in prescriptions and the drug can be refilled without a follow-up appointment. When it’s easier to get a drug, the price on the street is lower. It infects impoverished neighborhoods when the price of oxycodone is too much to sustain a raging drug habit.

Mike O'Neal,  professor of drug diversion, substance abuse and pain management at Knoxville South College School of Pharmacy in Tennessee, told the Charleston Daily Mail that even though despite the fact that  hydrocodone-acetaminophen abuse can lead to severe kidney and liver damage, it is still just as addictive and abused as its cousin oxycodone.

“The thought was, people won't abuse that as much because the acetaminophen would hurt their kidneys. That's a reasonable thought, but that's not true. In the face of drug addiction, all appropriate rationale and safety goes away,” O’Neal told the newspaper.

It’s also unnerving that the statistics available are solely for Medicare D patients, records that were subject to the Freedom of Information Act. It doesn’t account for the millions more under private insurance or the uninsured or even those under the umbrella of Medicaid. Taking all other patients into account, it’s reasonable to assume that the statistics would vary little.

We certainly hope that doctors and health professionals take every step to ensure that abuse is stopped at the source and that law enforcement officials make sure that doctors who abuse privileges, those who forge prescriptions, those who steal and those who deal are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Ask any officer and he may tell you that the biggest problem in our state and even in our county is not illegal drugs — it’s drugs that are sold or purchased illegally and abused for a “high.”

Too many lives have been shattered by such abuse.

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  • COLUMN: Freedom of Information — if you can pay

    Several years ago, I made a Freedom of Information request to a local government agency. Within the five business days, as required by law, a packet of information was delivered to the office. I expected a bill, as most government offices have a charge that ranges from 25 cents to $1.25 per page for copies of the documents we request.

    April 20, 2014

  • The reassuring spirit of Easter: One of new hope and beginnings

    During the sub-zero and snow-filled months of winter, we maintained a spirit of hope that spring was on the way. It has now become a reality as all nature stretches and yawns and awakens once more to a new beginning. The fragrance of spring awakens our waiting nostrils, the budding beauty of new life brightens our eyes, and the reassuring idea of renewal stimulates our minds.

    April 20, 2014

  • Unsung heroes handling calls in emergencies are appreciated

    Thankfully, we live in a community where help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, just by dialing three numbers — 9-1-1.
    During this week, which is recognized as National Public Safety Tele-Communicator’s Week nationwide, we need to remember that on the other end of that line are the men and women here in this county who are always there in case of accident, crimes, medical emergencies and any other catastrophic event.

    April 18, 2014

  • Message to ‘buckle up and park the phone’ is saving lives

    A figure that we haven’t seen that much in recent years is the highway death toll for a given period.
    Is the death toll up, down or just about the same as it was?
    The West Virginia Southern Regional Highway Safety Program has announced there were 325 highway fatalities in 2013, the second-lowest number on record.

    April 17, 2014

  • State native Burwell can ‘deliver results’ as Health and Human Services secretary

    Sylvia Mathews Burwell might not be a name with which most people are immediately familiar.
    For the past year, she has run the budget office under President Barack Obama.
    Prior to that, she served as president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Development Program and later the Wal-Mart Foundation.

    April 16, 2014

  • Marion scores well in recent health report but could do better

    When it comes to area-wide studies, especially on health, there’s usually good news and bad news.
    So was the recent report on the health of America’s counties released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently. The nationwide county study evaluated health outcomes and health factors, and ranked counties accordingly.

    April 13, 2014

  • COLUMN: ‘Instant’ news not always reliable

    That little word has a pretty big meaning. With origins that date back to the 15th century, it means urgent, current, immediate.
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    April 13, 2014

  • Decision to be an organ donor can save lives

    Chelsea Clair watched as her father died waiting for a bone marrow transplant.
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    April 11, 2014

  • Volunteers continue to have priceless impact on community

    Chances are, you know someone who volunteers. Perhaps you’re a volunteer yourself.
    Marion County is full of volunteers.
    They read to our youth.
    They assist nonprofit agencies.
    They serve on boards and committees.
    And in 2013, they spent a day picking up nearly 10 tons of garbage that had been tossed out on public property around Marion County.

    April 10, 2014

  • Proposed school calendar lives up to letter and spirit of law

    West Virginia state law requires that students be in a classroom for 180 days.

    April 9, 2014

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