Monthly Archives: March 2018

Prescription Opioid Diversion and Its Role in HCV Transmission

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

In last week’s post, we discussed efforts to force pharmaceutical companies to report payments made to nonprofit organizations and patient advocacy groups in an effort to track which groups are funded primarily (or wholly) by pharmaceutical companies to promote their own business interests. Essentially, by funding certain organizations (such as Pain Advocacy groups), these companies can wage war against legislative attempts to restrict access to and/or prescribing of their highly addictive products (thus losing them money). This week, we’re going to take a look at the diversion of prescription opioid drugs, and how this can lead to both an increase in the likelihood of opioid addiction, and how it contributes to an increase in disease transmission via Injection Drug Use (IDU).

Each day, more than 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for not using prescription opioids as directed

Photo Source: CDC

When I moved back to Kingsport, Tennessee as an adult in my late-20s, I began to notice a pattern: my co-workers and high school friends would tell me about their exploits with illicitly obtained “pills” – mostly OxyContin, as this was the late-00s. While working in a casual dining restaurant, I frequently heard about and witnessed efforts by my co-workers to obtain these drugs from other restaurant employees. Money would change hands, furtive glances were made around the restaurant to ensure no one was watching, and a few pills would be received, either loose or in a plastic bag. This activity was, of course, both illegal and against company policy, but it’s just SO easy to do, and I never reported the activity.

These drugs were often obtained by the seller either through a legitimate prescription for their own pain, or through getting them off of a third party. This type of drug dealing is called “diversion” – when legitimately prescribed opioid drugs are used outside of their prescribed purpose. It’s also the way that most prescription opioid addicts begin their path to addiction.

In 2015, HEAL Blog talked about the havoc prescription opioids wreaked upon my state (Hopkins, 2015). Teenagers would gain access to their parents’, grandparents’, or friends’ legitimately prescribed opioid drugs and use them recreationally. Unbeknownst to them, Purdue Pharma failed to mention that they knew their product was highly addictive, and before long, entire towns were in the throes of addiction. Fast forward to the ‘10s, and many of those prescription opioid addicts have moved away from the now-difficult-to-obtain prescription drugs to the much easier and cheaper to obtain heroin. Unfortunately for them, a good percentage of those heroin batches contain Fentanyl or Carfentanil – highly potent synthetic opioids that often lead to overdoses.

At the end of 2014, Scott County, Indiana, saw an huge spike in new HIV infections, caught because healthcare workers noticed a spike in new Hepatitis C infections. These new infections were driven almost entirely by IDU of Opana – a highly addictive prescription opioid that was removed from the market in 2017 (Kean, 2017). By the end of 2016, the county had 216 new HIV infections in the span of just two years, and of those, 95% were co-infected with HCV (May, 2016). So severe was the problem that Indiana and several surrounding states took the unprecedented approach of legalizing Syringe Services Programs – a move that was nigh unthinkable, since the early days of its proposal in the 1980s.

Here, in West Virginia, the rate of new HCV infections more than doubled from 2015 to 2016, from 3.4 to 7.2 (per 100,000), 68% of which were likely the result of IDU (WVDHHR, 2018). Despite this, Danny Jones, the mayor of Charleston, WV – the state capital – is on the warpath against the Kanawha County Harm Reduction Clinic because of an increase in used needles left throughout the city (Jenkins, 2018). Never mind that much of this refuse could be eliminated would the city spring for the Biohazard Disposal Kiosks requested by the health department, who instead had to fund them using funds from Emergency Medical Services programs.

Prescription drug diversion has led to tragic repercussions for many living in Appalachia who are now struggling with both addiction and comorbid infectious diseases. But, this problem doesn’t just exist in rural Appalachia, the Midwest, and New England – these issues are manifesting all around the U.S., and if we don’t take drastic measures to deal with drastic consequences, we’ll find ourselves faced with expensive outcomes.

References:

__________

Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Who Funds the Opioid Epidemic (and the Subsequent HCV Epidemic)

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is planning to introduce a bill into the Senate that would require drug makers to report payments that are made to nonprofit organizations and patient advocacy groups (Silverman, 2018). This is an issue that HEAL Blog, as well as the Community Access National Network’s HIV/HCV Co-Infection Watch publication, has repeatedly brought up in our reporting.

Sen. Claire McCaskill

Photo Source: The Washington Free Beacon

State and Federal lawmakers have been attempting to place prescribing and use restrictions on prescription opioid drugs for the better part of two decades. There is a natural opposition that state and Federal lawmakers face from opioid manufacturing pharmaceutical companies, such as Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, the first prescription opioid drug made available and marketed to average consumers rather than for use in palliative care and severe injury. But, that’s not where the pressure on lawmakers ends.

Purdue Pharma logo

Photo Source: Purdue Pharma

Where McCaskill’s proposal comes into play goes back much further, with pharmaceutical companies creating and funding nonprofit organizations to advocate for a single issue: Pain. Pain Advocates, since the late-1980s, have been actively lobbying Congress, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and state legislatures to push for easier access to these powerful drugs. Every time a legislator or the FDA attempts to reign in what was once virtually unfettered access to

Opioid drugs work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other areas of the body and reducing the sending of pain messages to the brain, thereby reducing the feeling of pain. For Pain Advocates who claim to represent patients whose levels of daily or regular pain leave them unable to function normally, these drugs have been seen as necessary for their survival. What drug manufacturers who fought for easy access to these drugs failed to mention (despite knowing from their own research) is that opioid drugs are highly addictive.

I’ve personally encountered several pain advocates whose opposition to my advocacy for opioid prescribing restrictions in the state of West Virginia has been boiled down to this line of thinking: “How am I supposed to be a functional human being without these prescriptions?” In a state like West Virginia, which has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the nation (52 per 100,000) and potentially the highest rate of Hepatitis C (HCV) in the nation (7.2 per 100,000), this comes across to me as them really saying, “My pain is more important than the preventable spread of disease or others’ lives.”

As the rate of new HCV infections continues to rise, in some states like WV, exponentially, is that opioid drug abuse is directly tied to this meteoric increase. In a report from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) National Institute on Drug Abuse, data indicate that the incidence of heroin initiation (beginning to use) was 19 times higher among those who reported prior nonmedical pain reliever use than among those who did not. Further, a separate study cited by the NIH found that 86% of young, urban heroin injectors had used opioid pain relievers nonmedically prior to using heroin, and that their introduction into nonmedical use was characterized by three main sources of opioids: family, friends, and personal prescriptions (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2018).

Next week, we’ll take a deeper look at how opioid diversion from legitimate prescriptions can potentially lead to addictions that can increase the risk of acquiring Hepatitis and HIV as a result of Injection Drug Use.

References:

__________

Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Kids Aren’t Alright

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

For nearly three years, healthcare officials and epidemiologists have been sounding the alarm: the face of the Hepatitis C (HCV) epidemic is changing – it’s getting younger by the minute. We, here at HEAL Blog, have been beating that drum alongside them, and yet, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has yet to formally change the screening recommendations to reflect the new reality. As more evidence piles up that new Acute HCV infections are largely being driven by prescription opioid and heroin Injection Drug Use (IDU) among Americans aged 15-45.

A piece written by the Digestive Health Team out of the Cleveland Clinic – Why Is Hepatitis C on the Rise in 20- to 29-Year-Olds? – explicitly says as much. In addition, while African-Americans share a disproportionate burden in the epidemic (as a percentage of the population), these issues are particularly pronounced in white, non-urban (suburban and rural) populations living primarily in Appalachia, the Midwest, and New England.

So, what is it about these areas that drives people to abuse prescription opioids, heroin, and/or other illicit drugs? There isn’t just one answer. A lot of the areas where these outbreaks and epidemics are so pronounced share several similarities – struggling economic circumstances; higher-than-average unemployment; less access to and utilization of healthcare services; high rates of Social Security Disability Insurance utilization; economies driven by high-intensity labor industries (mining, for example). Any combination of these factors can lead people to develop substance addictions; that these areas are more remote with fewer outlets and opportunities for employment, entertainment, or social engagement essentially creates enclaves where people can all but disappear into a considerably isolated world of addiction.

Where the kids come in often has to do with the friends, relatives, and other adults whose legitimate opioid prescriptions get unknowingly diverted by experimenting teens who inadvertently become addicted to the highly addictive substances. As a young adult living in a small city in Tennessee in the 2000s, virtually all any of my friends and co-workers wanted to do was find “pills” (primarily OxyContin). Whereas I grew up in the cocaine-fueled 80s and ecstasy-addled 90s, parties in the 2000s were, for my generation, comparatively somber affairs, with everyone pilled out on opioids and barely able to function. Once the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) started to catch on and legislators began tightening prescribing guidelines, they turned to cheaper and more readily available heroin.

With IDU comes a whole host of risks that, for much of the 80s and 90s – particularly as it related to HIV/AIDS – were made explicitly known. Every health and D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) I was made to attend as a child, pre-teen, and teenager included a very graphic section on the dangers of injecting drugs. Almost every school in the 90s had a rumor going around about some random person who was dancing at a nearby club and got stabbed with a used needle and got AIDS. While a lot of hyperbole was involved in these stories, the sense of horror we were expected to evince – “WHAT?!?! A DIRTY NEEDLE?!?!” – led a lot of us to become more risk averse, particularly in our younger years.

Twenty years later? A lot of those fears have been forgotten. We no longer see horrific images of people dying from AIDS – the treatments are amazing, tolerable, and don’t kill you. We aren’t afraid of diseases like HIV or viral hepatitis, anymore, because…well, HIV isn’t a death sentence, and HCV is curable. Hepatitis B is still a huge problem, as it has no cure. But, the reality is that neither the fear of becoming addicted, nor the fear of becoming infected are presently palpable enough to prevent people from even starting. What starts out as a way to kick back with your friends and loosen up can quickly turn into a daily habit and morph into a physical dependency. Once you’re dependent and addicted, the risks become less frightening.

__________

Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Is it Time for a Rethink on Hepatitis C Care?

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

In the state of West Virginia, any Medicaid beneficiary who is diagnosed with Hepatitis C must personally or through their prescribing doctor consult with either an Infectious Disease specialist or a doctor whose specialty includes Hepatitis C (e.g. – a Hepatologist) in order to have their prescription for Hepatitis C (HCV) Direct-Acting Antivirals (DAAs) approved. In addition, the patient must have a Metavir fibrosis score of F2 or higher as a prerequisite, as well as abstain from illicit drug and alcohol use for a period of 3 months.

These additional barriers to treatment are not only time consuming, but potentially costly. The consultation requirement, alone, exponentially increases the amount of money Medicaid must reimburse just in order to fill a prescription that can now be obtained for potentially $10k per patient (this, according to hearsay, since actual prices paid are forbidden from being made public by existing Trade Secrets laws). Beyond that, even current screening practices tend to require patients to see a specialist, just to get screened for the disease. This is both problematic, and relatively easily remedied.

Barriers to seeing out health care. About 1 in 2 Americans admit they have put off needed health care and have avoided going to a doctor when necessary.

Photo Source: VeraQuest

With the introduction of HCV DAAs in 2013, HCV patients gained access to what was once thought improbable – a relatively easily tolerated “cure” with a high level of efficacy and considerably fewer and less serious side effects. Since that time, an additional nine HCV DAAs have been brought to the market, with newer drugs coming down the pike. The most recent release, AbbVie’s Mavyret, is a potential game changer, offering curative treatment in 8-to-12 weeks for roughly 1/3 to 1/2 the price of the most popular drugs on the market, while sharing essentially identical cure rates. In fact, Mavyret has become the Preferred Drug for several Medicaid Fee-for-Service and Managed Care Organization (MCO) plans since its approval in August of last year.

But, still, issues remain. In West Virginia, the rate of HCV more than doubled from 3.4 (per 100,000 persons) in 2015 (CDC, 2017) to a staggering 7.2 in 2016 (West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, 2018). While increased screening may account for this considerable increase, 68% of new Acute HCV infections listed Injection Drug Use (IDU) as the primary risk factor (WV DHHR, 2018), which indicates that increased screening of this community needs to be a priority.

Some of the ways that this can be accomplished is at the regulatory level – requiring screening of all adults in virtually every healthcare setting (e.g. – emergency rooms, primary care, community health centers, urgent care clinics, and correctional settings). In fact, in a simulation model, researchers from Boston Medical Center, Mass. General Hospital, and Stanford University found that this expanded screening protocol would increase life expectancy and quality of life, while also remaining cost effective (Legasse, 2018).

The strategy would also identify an estimated 250,000 more HCV cases than the current U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)-recommended strategy of focusing screening efforts on the Birth Cohort – individuals born between 1945-1965 (Green, 2018). This would have a projected benefit of increasing cure rates from 41% to 61%, while also reducing the risk of death from HCV-linked conditions by more than 20% compared to the current CDC guidelines (Toich, 2018).

It is clear that expanding screening to include all adults, rather than focusing efforts on the Birth Cohort and those whose doctors are aware of any other risk factors (because, let’s be honest – few people who inject drugs are open about that with most doctors, unless they’re there for an IDU-related condition or because of an overdose, at which point, it’s pretty obvious). Once we achieve THAT measure, we can move on to allowing Primary Care Physicians and Registered Nurses begin to administer and monitor HCV DAA therapy, because, it’s just not that difficult to do.

References:

__________

Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized