Tuesday, March 20, 2012

DPS: One bottle of hydrocodone pills worth $18,000

New law puts heat on 'doctor shoppers'

By Cindy Horswell
Houston Chronicle
Sunday, March 18, 2012
For nine months, a 32-year-old petite redhead from Willis duped 52 area doctors into filling her shopping list for thousands of addictive pills, investigators say.

Rochelle Clark was allegedly netting more than five prescriptions a week, acquiring more than 12,800 tablets of the narcotic hydrocodone alone, prescription records showed, before her shopping spree ended with her arrest in February.

Harris County prosecutor Ryan Patrick has identified her as one of the growing number of premier "doctor shoppers" now awaiting trial under a new law that makes it a felony for a patient to fail to inform a physician of all the other practitioners prescribing controlled substances to him.

At the same time, some patients are using more than artful persuasion to develop their shopping networks. Several, such as Andrew Coleman, a 57-year-old Houston resident, are accused under the same law with the additional deception of using fake prescriptions.

Authorities said there were 85 doctors linked to Coleman's prescriptions for controlled substances (including 20,330 hydrocodone pills).

Fake prescriptions under three doctors' names - physicians who had never seen Coleman - were among those that were faxed and filled at 100 different pharmacies in Harris and Fort Bend counties from February 2009 to January 2011.

Neither Clark nor Coleman could be reached for comment. But investigators say both are examples of a new push to crack down on patients - not just the doctors and pharmacists that have made Houston a hot spot for prescription drug abuse.

Since the first of the year, Patrick estimates he has been filing at least four doctor shopping cases a week in Harris County.

The closing of dozens of so-called "pill mills" has so far not stemmed the tide of addictive drugs flowing into the eight-county Houston region, as the number of hydrocodone prescriptions climbed by 22 percent to 3.1 million last year compared to 2010. Harris County accounted for nearly one-fourth of all the hydrocodone prescriptions in the state last year, records showed.

Many of the doctor shoppers are not just addicts seeking drugs for themselves, they are also dealers, said U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's agent in-charge Anthony Scott in Houston. His agency is targeting criminals who run "crews" of doctor shoppers to keep their illegal drug enterprises running.
"We see patients obtaining thousands of pills. No way they could stay alive if they consumed that much," said Patrick, the Harris County prosecutor.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 76 percent of the 12 million Americans abusing prescription drugs are consuming drugs that were prescribed to someone else.

Catching doctor shoppers will become much easier once the state's prescription monitoring program can be accessed online this summer, authorities say. Registered doctors, pharmacists and law enforcement officers can then obtain quick feedback from the database to determine if a patient has multiple prescriptions.

Dr. C.M Schade, a Texas Pain Society director, is helping test the new online system. He was surprised to discover some of his own patients were trying to mislead him and scam the system.

"They can be very good actors. They're usually the ones you'd least suspect of perpetrating a crime," he said. "They are well trained, and there's money in it." The Department of Public Safety estimates one bottle of hydrocodone pills is worth $18,000.

Tony Aucoin, a drug and alcohol therapist in Houston, recalls how he had once been easily lured into doctor shopping. He became addicted to prescription drugs for three years following a painful dental procedure in 2006.

"The drugs made me feel good. I never thought I was getting addicted until I started needing it just to function," said Aucoin of the time when he was a graduate student. As his need intensified, a friend taught him how to doctor shop.

"I was worried at first. But then I saw how easy it was. I just had to say my 'back hurt' and then say 'ouch' when they poked around," he said. Before long, he was obtaining controlled substances from three different doctors a month.

Now helping others overcome addictions, Aucoin would like to see the Texas Legislature make it mandatory for doctors and pharmacists to check the state's online database before dispensing drugs. State and federal law enforcement authorities agree.

But Schade does not think that responsibility should be placed on the medical profession's shoulders. He would rather have the Texas Department of Public Safety, which manages the state's computerized prescription monitoring system, run scans to detect any abuses and report them.

But all agree on one thing: "Doctor shopping continues to be a serious problem and the prescription monitoring program is the best tool we have to stop it," Schade said.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Prescription pill abuse in Houston-area schools

By Cindy Horswell
Updated 10:39 p.m., Friday, February 17, 2012
Houston Chronicle

In recent weeks, teens have covertly handed out addictive prescription drugs on three school campuses that have made scores of students sick in the Houston area.

A fourth campus also recently ended an undercover drug investigation with the arrest of a dozen students who authorities say were mostly peddling prescription drugs.

The recent movement of these abused drugs from so-called pill mills to school hallways has alarmed administrators and law enforcement.

"There's been a huge shift in what we're finding on school campuses compared to what we saw even a few years ago. Prescriptions are the new dope front, because they're cheap and accessible," said Angleton school district police Chief James Gayle, who ran the undercover operation. "This is not a localized problem. It's a national epidemic."

For four months, Gayle had an undercover agent pose as a student in his Brazoria County school district. This agent, Gayle said, was repeatedly approached to buy controlled substances such as hydrocodone, oxycodone and Ritalin - rather than the usual street drugs like methamphetamines or cocaine.

School administrators are particularly concerned about the prevalence of prescription drugs on school campuses because most drug dogs aren't trained to detect the new menace.

Also, students are lulled into a false belief that prescription drugs won't hurt them, even though authorities say the controlled substances are just as deadly. In recent years, Houston has become a national hot spot for prescription drug abuse with hundreds dying in Harris County from overdoses.

Oxycontin, Haldol

At least 16 students were exposed to a pill that contained a potent combination of Oxycontin (a narcotic pain reliever) and Haldol (an anti-psychotic drug) at Royal High School in Brookshire on Jan. 10. Nine were hospitalized for ailments such as convulsions that can be delayed for several hours after taking the drugs.

"We didn't know one kid had ingested any of this drug until he passed out the next day," said Royal ISD Superintendent Nathaniel Richardson. "He had a very bad reaction. We were afraid he was going to die, but now he's back at school."

The teenager who dispensed that drug has since been charged with possession and distribution of a controlled substance, and the others who took it have been sent to the district's alternative school.

A second incident occurred Jan. 31 at Cleveland High School when 16 students ingested Lorazepam, a drug used to treat anxiety, insomnia and acute seizures. The drug is also illegally sold for those wanting to get high or use its sedative effects as a "date rape drug."

"We don't know how many pills each student took," said Cleveland ISD spokeswoman Stacey Gatllin, but the district became aware of the problem when students became suddenly ill and started showing up at the nurse's office.

"Some were vomiting and stumbling around. Others were lethargic," she said. "I think they got scared when they saw their friends getting sick."

Nine of the 16 were rushed by ambulance to the hospital, where they were treated and released. Four have been charged with possession or delivery of a controlled substance and the rest assigned to the district's alternative school for 30 days.

'New frontier'

On Thursday, Gatlin said district officials discovered a small white pill had been illegally dispensed to seven students at Cleveland Middle School.

Only two students had ingested the pill and started vomiting and exhibiting other odd behaviors. One of them was taken to the hospital for treatment, while the other was released to his parent. The pill has been sent to a lab to be analyzed.

"We are still vigorously looking into this case," said Cleveland ISD police Chief Antonio Ford. "This is a new frontier, and we want to be pro-active."

Two cancer drugs may halt Ebola

By Don Finley
San Antonio Express-News
Thursday, March 1, 2012

Two off-the-shelf cancer drugs blocked the deadly Ebola virus from reproducing in the test tube — an early, promising advance in a disease and potential biological weapon with no approved treatments or vaccine, scientists report.

Testing of the drugs took place in the biosafety level-4 lab at Texas Biomedical Research Institute, in collaboration with government scientists and researchers in Houston and Atlanta.

The two leukemia drugs, nilotinib and imatinib, don't attack the virus directly, but instead target the patient's own infected cells, preventing the virus inside from reproducing and escaping.

“That's a concept that's been attractive for antiviral therapy, because if you can target a cellular protein that's required for the virus, it makes it a little harder for the virus to mutate to develop resistance,” said Dr. Gary Nabel, director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which led the study published today in Science Translational Medicine.

And while the drugs didn't completely clear the virus, researchers say what they've learned from outbreaks of the disease in Africa show that those with low levels of the virus in their bodies often survive.

The hope would be that a short-term course of treatment with the drug might eliminate enough of the virus that the patient's own immune system could eliminate the rest.

“Often in this disease if you can just shave a little bit of the viral load off of the infection, if you can just lower it tenfold even, that's what's going to give people a chance to survive it,” Nabel said. “That's really what we're aiming to do.”

Nabel cautioned the work is early but promising, and that the next step is to test it in animals. Because Ebola outbreaks in nature are so infrequent and unpredictable, it makes human testing almost impossible, researchers say.

Government rules will allow approval of vaccines and treatments in such cases if they demonstrate effectiveness in two animal models.

Ebola hemorrhagic fever, described by the World Health Organization as often fatal and one of the most virulent viral diseases on the planet, was named for a river in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, near the location it was first identified in 1976.

It causes illness in both people and nonhuman primates, and appears sporadically in a handful of African nations.

“It's very random,” said Ricardo Carrion, a virologist at Texas Biomed and co-author of the study. “We're still trying to identify the reservoir. We don't even know what maintains it in nature.”

Read more: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/Two-cancer-drugs-may-halt-Ebola-3370912.php#ixzz1ntrjwoS7