Category Archives: Drugs & Medicines

Most Americans say they have a personal tie to prescription drug abuse



By Lisa Gillespie

The growing abuse of prescription painkillers now touches home for a majority of Americans, according to a poll released Tuesday.

One in three say either they have been addicted to painkillers or they have known a family member or close friend who was.

More than 56 percent of the public say they have a personal connection to the issue, reports the latest monthly tracking poll of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

That share includes those who say they know someone who died from a painkiller overdose, have been addicted themselves or know someone who has and those who know someone who took painkillers not prescribed to them, the poll’s results show. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the Foundation.)

Details from the poll:

— 16 percent say they know someone who has died and 9 percent say that person was a close friend or family member.

— 27 percent say either they have been addicted to painkillers or they have known a family member or close friend who was.

— 63 percent of whites say they have a personal connection to the abuse of prescription painkillers compared with 44 percent of blacks and 37 percent of Hispanics.

Half of those surveyed rank prescription painkiller and heroin abuse as a top priority for their governor and legislature, behind improving public education and making health care more accessible and affordable, which drew 76 percent and 68 percent shares, respectively.

Sixty-two percent of those polled said the drug Naloxone, which can reverse an overdose and is handed out in some states without a prescription and for little or no cost, should only be available via prescription.

Efforts to reduce painkiller abuse would be at least somewhat effective, many Americans say. Providing treatment for addicts is cited by 85 percent, monitoring doctors’ prescribing habits by 82 percent and encouraging people to dispose of leftover medication by 69 percent.

Kaiser’s tracking poll was conducted Nov. 10 to 17 among 1,352 adults.The margin of error for the full sample is +/- 3 percentage points.

Please contact Kaiser Health News to send comments or ideas for future topics for the Insuring Your Health column.

khn_logo_lightKaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.


Fewer Medicare-subsidized drug plans means less choice for low-income seniors

Denise Scott, 66, is concerned about how much Medicare will pay for her prescriptions in the future.

Denise Scott, 66, is concerned about how much Medicare will pay for her prescriptions in the future.

By Susan Jaffe

Even though health problems forced Denise Scott to retire several years ago, she feels “very blessed” because her medicine is still relatively inexpensive and a subsidy for low-income Medicare beneficiaries covers the full cost of her monthly drug plan premiums. But the subsidy is not going to stretch as far next year.

That’s because the premium for Scott’s current plan will cost more than her federal subsidy.

The 64-year-old from Cleveland is among the 2 million older or disabled Americans who will have to find new coverage that accepts the subsidy as full premium payment or else pay for the shortfall.

As beneficiaries explore options during the current Medicare enrollment period, there are only 227 such plans from which they can choose next year, 20 percent fewer than this year, and the lowest number since the drug benefit was added to Medicare in 2006, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Continue reading


Medicaid denies nearly half of requests for hepatitis C drug

Hepatitis C virus

Hepatitis C virus

By Michelle Andrews

People with hepatitis C who sought prescriptions for highly effective but pricey new drugs were significantly more likely to get turned down if they had Medicaid coverage than if they were insured by Medicare or private commercial policies, a recent study found.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine analyzed the hepatitis C prescriptions from 2,342 patients in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey that were submitted between November 2014 and April 2015 to a large specialty pharmacy that serves the region.

The drugs included Sovaldi, Harvoni and Viekira Pak, and others that are part of the treatment regimen. A 12-week course of treatment for one patient can reach more than $90,000. Continue reading


Cancer meds can have high out-of-pocket costs for patients, report


Twenty-dollar bill in a pill bottleBy Julie Appleby

Cancer patients shopping on federal and state insurance marketplaces often find it difficult to determine whether their drugs are covered and how much they will pay for them, the advocacy arm of the American Cancer Society says in a report that also calls on regulators to restrict how much insurers can charge patients for medications.

While the report found fairly broad coverage for prescription cancer medications, most insurance plans in the six states that were examined placed all or nearly all of the 22 medications studied into payment “tiers” that require the biggest out-of-pocket costs by patients, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network said. Continue reading


10 percent of US adults have drug use disorder at some point in their lives


75 percent report not receiving any form of treatment.

From the National Institutes of Health

Three red and white capsulesA survey of American adults revealed that drug use disorder is common, co-occurs with a range of mental health disorders and often goes untreated.

The study, funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, found that about 4 percent of Americans met the criteria for drug use disorder in the past year and about 10 percent have had drug use disorder at some time in their lives.

“Based on these findings, more than 23 million adults in the United States have struggled with problematic drug use,” said George F. Koob, Ph.D., NIAAA director. “Given these numbers, and other recent findings about the prevalence and under-treatment of alcohol use disorder in the U.S., it is vitally important that we continue our efforts to understand the underlying causes of drug and alcohol addiction, their relationship to other psychiatric conditions and the most effective forms of treatment.”

“Based on these findings, more than 23 million adults in the United States have struggled with problematic drug use.” —George F. Koob, Ph.D.

NIAAA directorA diagnosis of drug use disorder is based on a list of symptoms including craving, withdrawal, lack of control, and negative effects on personal and professional responsibilities. Continue reading


How Russian hid its doping in plain sight



By David Epstein

On Monday, the World Anti-Doping Agency issued a report painting Russia’s sports programs as doping machines reminiscent of East Germany’s erstwhile state-sponsored drug programs.

This year we’ve written about the use of prescription drugs to enhance performance and why it’s so hard to catch dopers. But in Russia, there appeared to be no need for ever-more advanced maneuvering to evade positive tests.

In Russia, athletes simply needed cash and a culture that rewarded a no-holds-barred drive for champions. Continue reading


When things go wrong at the hospital, who pays?


Physician and Nurse Pushing Gurney

By Shefali Luthra
KHN/Washington Post

When Charles Thompson checked into the hospital one July morning in 2011, he expected a standard colonoscopy.

He never anticipated how wrong things would go.

Partway through, the doctor emerged and said there were complications, remembered Ann, Charles’ wife. Charles’ colon may have been punctured. He needed emergency surgery to repair it.

Charles, now 61, from Greenville, S.C., almost died on the operating table after experiencing cardiac distress. His right coronary artery required multiple stents. He also relies on a pacemaker.

If treatment makes things worse – meaning patients need more care – who pays? The answer, it seems, is that it depends.

“He’s not the same as before,” said Ann, 62. “Our whole lifestyle changed – now all we do is sit at home and go to church. And that’s because he’s scared of dying.”

When things like this happen in the hospital, questions arise: Who’s responsible? If treatment makes things worse – meaning patients need more care – who pays?

The answer, it seems, is that it depends. Continue reading


Court orders TB patient to comply with treatment


tb-imageBy James Apa
Public Health – Seattle & King County

For what is believed to be only the sixth time in more than a decade, Public Health – Seattle & King County has taken the rare step of seeking a court order to detain a potentially contagious patient who resisted treatment for tuberculosis.

On October 23, King County Superior Court issued an order for electronic home detention. The patient is currently complying with the court order and receiving treatment.

Dr. Masa Narita, Public Health’s TB control officer, said such action is always a last resort but was necessary in this case to protect the health of the community.

“Tuberculosis can be infectious without treatment, so to prevent others from being exposed to TB in the community and to prevent development of drug resistant TB, a person with active TB needs to be treated with antibiotics consistently for several months,” Narita ai. “This person did not comply with treatment on numerous occasions, which puts the patient at risk for a prolonged illness or dying and puts others at risk as well.”

Treating TB Continue reading


Premiums for key marketplace silver plans rising an average of 7.5%


Twenty-dollar bill in a pill bottleBy Mary Agnes Carey and Jordan Rau

Premiums will increase an average of 7.5 percent for the second-lowest-cost silver insurance plan to be offered next year in the 37 states where the federal government operates health marketplaces, according to an analysis by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The HHS report, released late Monday, focuses on the monthly premiums for the second-lowest silver plan, also called the benchmark, which is used by the Internal Revenue Service to calculate tax credits to help pay for the premiums.

The credits are available to people with incomes between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty line ($11,770 to $47,080 for an individual) who purchase coverage on the federal or state-based online marketplaces, or exchanges.

The largest increase among the 37 states was in Oklahoma, where the silver benchmark plan’s premium rose by an average of 36 percent, according to the government analysis.

Other states with premium increases of more than 25 percent were Alaska, Montana and New Mexico.

The largest drop in premiums occurred in Indiana, where the average price of a benchmark silver plan will decrease by 13 percent. Average benchmark plan premiums will also drop in Maine, Mississippi and Ohio, according to the government figures. Continue reading


No quick fix for rising drug costs


Rx_symbol_borderBy Julie Appleby

When Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price of an older generic drug by more than 5,000 percent last month, the move sparked a public outcry.

How, critics wondered, could a firm charge $13.50 a pill for a treatment for a parasitic infection one day and $750 the next?

The criticism led Turing’s unapologetic CEO to say he’d pare back the increase – although no new price has yet been named – and the New York attorney general has launched an antitrust investigation.

The outcry has again focused attention on how drug prices are set in the United States. Aside from some limited government control in the veterans health care system and Medicaid, prices are generally shaped by what the market will bear. Continue reading


Flu season is here – vaccines are now available for all ages



Influenza viruses

Influenza viruses

From Washington State Department of Health

Fall brings crisp mornings, colorful leaves, pumpkins on porches, and an unwelcome visitor: flu. Thankfully, flu vaccine has also arrived and is now widely available for everyone in the family for protection throughout the season.

“We’re seeing some flu cases in Washington,” says State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy. “Getting a flu shot every year is the best way to protect yourself and your family from this very serious illness. Medical providers and pharmacies in Washington have flu vaccines to protect you from this year’s flu strains. Anyone 6 months and older should get vaccinated.”

Data from the National Immunization Survey, released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), show that flu vaccination rates in Washington are not where they should be. Only half of Washingtonians got vaccinated during the 2014-2015 flu season. Continue reading


Seniors who don’t consider switching drug plans may face steep price rise


By Michelle Addrews

When Mildred Fine received the annual notice informing her about changes to her Medicare prescription drug plan for 2016, she was shocked. If she stayed with the same plan, her monthly premium would more than triple, from $33.90 to $121.10, and her annual deductible would rise from $320 to $360.

“People just have to check their plans every year to see what’s going on.”

The increase didn’t make sense to Fine, 84, whose prescriptions haven’t changed and whose drugs are generally inexpensive. She takes two generic blood pressure drugs and a generic antidepressant, as well as Estrace, an estrogen cream. This year, she didn’t meet her deductible until September.

Working with a counselor from her local State Health Insurance Assistance Program, Fine logged on to Medicare’s plan finder to compare the roughly 20 plans available near her home in Burns, Ore.

She found a plan with no deductible and a monthly premium of $33.50, less than what she pays now. Fine estimates she’ll save nearly $1,500 next year in out-of-pocket costs compared with what she would have paid if she’d stuck with her current plan.

“People just have to check their plans every year to see what’s going on,” Fine says.

But most Medicare beneficiaries don’t do that, studies show. Continue reading


Nursing home residents face health risks from antibiotic misuse


Three red and white capsulesBy Lisa Gillespie

Antibiotics are prescribed incorrectly to ailing nursing home residents up to 75 percent of the time, the nation’s public health watchdog says.

The reasons vary — wrong drug, wrong dose, wrong duration or just unnecessarily – but the consequences are scary, warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overused antibiotics over time lose their effectiveness against the infections they were designed to treat. Some already have. And some antibiotics actually cause life-threatening illnesses on their own.

Studies have estimated antibiotics are prescribed inappropriately 40 percent to 75 percent of the time in nursing homes.The CDC last month advised all nursing homes to do more – immediately – to protect more than 4 million residents from hard-to-treat superbugs that are growing in number and resist antibiotics.

Antibiotic-resistant infections threaten everyone, but elderly people in nursing homes are especially at risk because their bodies don’t fight infections as well. Continue reading