The number of people hospitalized because of amphetamine use is skyrocketing in the United States, but the resurgence of the drug largely has been overshadowed by the nation’s intense focus on opioids. Amphetamine-related hospitalizations jumped by about 245 percent from 2008 to 2015, according to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That dwarfs the rise in hospitalizations from other drugs, such as opioids, which were up by about 46 percent. The most significant increases were in Western states. The surge in hospitalizations and deaths due to amphetamines “is just totally off the radar,” said Jane Maxwell, an addiction researcher.
Gale Dunham, a pharmacist in Calistoga, Calif., knows the devastation the opioid epidemic has wrought, and she is glad the anti-overdose drug naloxone is becoming more accessible. But so far, Dunham said, she has not taken advantage of a California law that allows pharmacists to dispense the medication to patients without a doctor’s prescription. She said she plans to take the training required at some point but has not yet seen much demand for the drug. “I don’t think people who are heroin addicts or taking a lot of opioids think that they need it,” Dunham said. “Here, nobody comes and asks for it.”
In the three years since the California law took effect, pharmacists have been slow to dispense naloxone, which reverses the effects of an overdose.
In Washington, D.C., a Medicare beneficiary filled prescriptions for 2,330 pills of oxycodone, hydromorphone and morphine in a single month last year — written by just one of the 42 health providers who prescribed the person such drugs. In Illinois, a different Medicare enrollee received 73 prescriptions for opioid drugs from 11 prescribers and filled them at 20 different pharmacies. He sometimes filled prescriptions at multiple pharmacies on the same day. These are among the examples cited in a sobering new report released today by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The IG found that heavy painkiller use and abuse remains a serious problem in Medicare’s prescription drug program, known as Part D, which serves more than 43 million seniors and disabled people.
The Senate Public Affairs Committee decided to send a bill regarding prescription opioids and overdose prevention on to the next committee without a recommendation. The bill, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, and Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, aims to require the New Mexico Department of Health to post overdose prevention information online and require some insurance providers to offer coverage for prescription opioids that make it more difficult to overdose. Some types of opioid pills have an abuse-deterrent option that has been modified to make it harder to alter the form. The idea behind making a pill harder to crush is that many addicts crush prescription pills into powder to intensify or speed up the effects. Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, raised concerns about insurance companies being mandated to carry these types of medication, even though there are no generic versions of the drug available.