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Obama administration hopes to tackle prescription drug abuse

BY Alaric DeArment

WASHINGTON — More than 1.3 million emergency room visits in 2010 were related to abuse of prescription drugs, and the problem has become widespread enough that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies it as an epidemic. In response, curbing abuse of prescription drugs has become a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s drug policy.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy’s 2013 National Drug Control Strategy, the fourth since 2010, included as a policy focus the prevention of prescription drug abuse, drawing praise from trade groups and government alike.

According to data from 2011, about 2.3 million Americans aged 12 and older used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes for the first time, with 1.9 million of them using pain relievers, mostly opioids. According to the strategy, there are indications that those who abuse opioids eventually turn to injected opiates and eventual use of heroin; according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, compiled by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Substance Abuse and Health Mental Health Services Administration and the non-profit group RTI International, the number of people who used heroin in the past year went from 373,000 in 2007 to 620,000 in 2011.

Still, the administration said, the number of people who abused prescription drugs decreased from 7 million in 2010 to 6.1 million in 2011.

The healthcare distribution trade group HDMA heralded the report.

"We applaud the efforts of the ONDCP in creating a ‘modern, balanced … policy’ to curb the prescription drug abuse epidemic in this country," HDMA president and CEO John Gray said. "HDMA supports ONDCP’s approach to this issue that involves a multilayered strategy, allowing for critical training and education for healthcare professionals; providing adequate funding and interoperability for state prescription drug monitoring programs; the establishment of prescription drug take-back and disposal programs that are safe, accessible and cost-effective; and coordinated law-enforcement efforts at the federal, state and local levels to remove ‘bad actors’ from the system."

The Food and Drug Administration also praised the report.

"We agree that our nation’s front-line healthcare professionals play a vital role in efforts to reduce the abuse and misuse of opioids," the agency said in a statement. "The FDA believes it is critically important to ensure that prescribers have adequate training in opioid therapy; know the content of the most current drug labels; and educate patients about the appropriate use of prescription drugs, their potential risks and proper disposal techniques."


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GNC expands Member Price Program nationwide

BY Michael Johnsen

PITTSBURGH— GNC on Wednesday expanded nationwide its new Member Price Program, which will incorporate GNC’s current loyalty program boasting close to 7 million active members.

In new markets in which the Member Price Program is launching, GNC will offer free memberships for a limited time.

The rollout of the Member Price Program follows a successful test-market campaign of up to two years in key markets like Kansas City, Pittsburgh, New York and Chicago that produced higher store traffic and increased revenues. GNC anticipates that the program will expand membership to a larger base of consumers, including new and existing members, as well as lapsed Gold Card holders.

As a GNC VIP, customers save up to 50% on all products. The program’s simplified pricing also makes shopping easier, both in-store and online, GNC noted.


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Generic OxyContin can be launched by Actavis in January 2014 under settlement with Purdue

BY Alaric DeArment

PARSIPPANY, N.J. — Generic drug maker Actavis is settling a patent-infringement suit with Purdue Pharma concerning the opioid painkiller OxyContin, Actavis said Friday, saying it expected to make more than $100 million in the deal between 2014 and 2015.

Under the settlement, Actavis will be able to market a limited quantity of its version of the drug, known generically as oxycodone extended-release tablets, starting on Jan. 1, 2014, pending Food and Drug Administration approval. If Actavis is unable to get approval from the FDA, it will be allowed to market an authorized generic version of the drug starting in October 2014; an authorized generic is a branded drug marketed under its generic name at a discount.

Actavis' generic, like the branded version marketed by Purdue, includes abuse-deterrent properties designed to make the drug less useful if it is crushed or dissolved. The announcement comes less than two weeks after the FDA announced that it would not approve any generic of the old version of OxyContin, which did not include abuse-deterrent features. Purdue withdrew that version of the drug in 2010.

"The agreement provides a date-certain launch that eliminates the risk of current and future litigation related to all versions of OxyContin," Actavis president and CEO Paul Bisaro said. "It also eliminates the uncertainty surrounding FDA review and approval of generic versions of abuse-deterrent products."

The FDA made its announcement amid fears expressed by public health officials, politicians and others that generic versions of OxyContin without abuse-deterrent features would encourage abuse. The drug has long been a target of drug abusers who crush the pills in order to snort or inject them. Still, it also raised concerns about whether a cheaper, generic version of OxyContin would become available to consumers.

OxyContin had sales of $2.8 billion during the 12-month period that ended in January, according to IMS Health.

"Today's agreement will promote competition and allow for availability of generic formulations of reformulated OxyContin," Purdue president and CEO John Stewart said. "At the same time, this resolution relieves us of the risks, distractions and costs of continued litigation. We are pleased that this matter has been resolved in a manner that respects the inventions we have incorporated into the reformulated OxyContin tablets."


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