Category Archives: drugs

Bill eases rules for prescribing drug overdose medications

Committees of both the House and Senate have approved legislation clearing the way for pharmacists to issue prescriptions for medications treating drug overdoses to persons “at risk” of an overdose or their relatives and friends, reports the Kingsport Times-News. The bill (HB2225) is scheduled for a House floor vote Thursday.

If the bill is passed and signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam, the Tennessee Department of Health would be required to draft a “Collaborative Pharmacy Practice Agreement,” in which standards and parameters would be outlined for the dispensing of medication by pharmacists.

Pharmacists would also be required under the bill to complete an opioid antagonist training program within the previous two years to dispense the medication. The bill would also establish immunity from disciplinary or adverse administrative actions as well as immunity from civil liability if the medication is dispensed properly.

The bill comes at a time when more Tennesseans are becoming hooked on prescription pain killers than ever before. According to a study conducted by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Subtance Abuse in November 2015, prescription pain killers are the drug of choice among all age groups in Tennessee.

Overdose deaths in the state have been on the rise for years. According to TDH, 1,166 people died from drug overdoses while that number increased by almost 100 in 2014. Sullivan County saw 44 overdose deaths in 2014, the latest data available.

Steps have been taken in Tennessee to allow greater access to opioid antagonists. In 2014, doctors were allowed to prescribe them to patients. Emergency responders have been giving the drug to overdosing patients for years.

TennCare pushing birth control for drug-abusing women

TennCare officials are pushing health care providers to prescribe birth control implants to mothers of children with drug dependency, reports WPLN.

The state’s prescription painkiller epidemic is the underlying problem. Babies born to mothers hooked on opiates often suffer withdrawals, known as neonatal abstinence syndrome. According to the latest figures, 93 percent of all NAS births in the state are to mothers on TennCare. The agency now spends $50 million a year on the related hospital bills as infants go through detox in a neonatal intensive care unit.

To make sure mothers don’t end up having a second child with the same condition, TennCare is prodding obstetricians to recommend long-acting birth control implants.

“We want to put in place the right incentives for that conversation to occur,” chief medical officer Vaughn Frigon says.“That’s really a conversation that’s best between the treating physician and the mother. But what we want to do is make sure that those contraceptives are available.”

TennCare has made it so doctors can get paid more for the procedure if its done while a new mother is still in the hospital. The agency has also made it easier for hospitals to keep the implants or intrauterine devices (IUD) on hand.

The latest TennCare data shows fewer women on prescribed painkillers taking birth control pills too. Among 30 to 34-year-olds, just 15 percent of those on prescribed opiates also were on contraceptives.

Women’s health groups are somewhat wary. Health officials have also been pushing birth control as women leave jail in some counties with particularly high instances of neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Drug tests for welfare: 65 positives, 116 drop application

A Tennessee law requiring drug screening and testing of those applying for welfare benefits has yielded few positives for illicit drugs, reports The Tennessean. But scores of people have walked away from the application process.

Just 65 of 39,121 people applying for a cash assistance program known as Families First in Tennessee tested positive for illegal substances or drugs for which they had no prescription since the law was implemented July 1, 2014, according to data provided by the Department of Human Services to The Tennessean.

An additional 116 refused to participate in an initial drug screening questionnaire, automatically disqualifying them for benefits.

The total cost of drug testing so far: $23,592.

Opponents of the drug testing requirement point to the small fraction of people testing positive for drugs — less than 1 percent of all applicants tested positive — as a sign the policy is a failure based on an unfair perception that poorer Tennesseans are more likely to abuse drugs.

“I thought the legislation when it passed was ridiculous,” said state Rep. Sherry Jones, a Nashville Democrat. “I still think it’s ridiculous. Obviously the numbers don’t justify the cost, and in other states that have done this program their numbers don’t justify this cost either.”

But Rep. Glen Casada, who voted in favor of the law, disagrees.

“When you add up the 116 (who refused to go through drug screening) to the 65 people (who failed a drug test), that’s 175 or 180 people no longer receiving taxpayer-funded support for illegal activities,” the Republican lawmaker said. “It’s a good investment that those who receive support at the largesse of taxpayers should not be using it to fund illegal activities.”

The average monthly benefit of the cash assistance program was $165 per month in December – or $1,980 per year. The 116 people who refused to take the test otherwise might have cost $230,000 each year, had they gone forward and otherwise qualified for benefits.

Four sentenced for Shelby County jail drug smuggling

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Prosecutors say four former sheriff’s employees have been sentenced to federal prison in a scheme to smuggle what they thought were OxyContin pills in the Shelby County Jail.

Media outlets report U.S. Attorney Edward L. Stanton III’s office announced the sentencings Friday of Marcus Green, Brian Grammer, Torriano Vaughn and Anthony Thomas.

Stanton spokesman Louis Goggans says in a news release that after inmates tipped off authorities, law enforcement agents posing as associates of cooperating inmates arranged with the jailers to have pills smuggled into jail in exchange for cash.

Goggans says pills provided to the jailers were placebos and were ultimately recovered by law enforcement.

Vaughn, Green and Grammer were sentenced to one year plus one day in prison. Thomas was sentenced to one month in prison.

Bill reducing marijuana penalties clears committee

A Republican-sponsored bill that would make three or more convictions for simple possession or casual exchange of marijuana a misdemeanor rather than a felony passed a key hurdle on Tuesday, reports The Tennessean.

With a unanimous 9-0 vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill (SB1572) that would make changes to the prosecution of those found guilty of possessing marijuana and other controlled substances three or more times.

The move is expected to decrease the state’s incarceration costs by as much as $2 million, according to the bill’s fiscal note.

The change comes as part of a package deal. The heart of the bill was actually centered on enhancing the state’s DUIs laws.

Current law hands out a Class E felony to any person with four of more DUI convictions. The bill would alter the state’s law and give a Class C felony to anyone with six or more DUI convictions.

According to the bill’s fiscal note, Tennessee annually averages about 456 convictions for four or more DUIs. If the changes proposed in the bill were implemented, the state’s correction system would increase by 61 people, including estimates for population growth.

Factoring in recidivism rates, the fiscal note found that the state could reasonably expect 34 additional offenders, which would cost $1.6 million, to enter Tennessee’s correctional system each year as a result of the DUI changes.

With that in mind, the bill’s sponsors — Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, and Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown — amended it to include the changes to the state’s prosecution of offenses involving the possession of controlled substances.

Passage of the bill would actually result in a $342,600 decrease in incarcerations, according to the fiscal note.

“In order to reduce the fiscal effects of the bill it does reduce the simple possession or casual exchange of a controlled substance,” McNally said while introducing the bill.

Simple possession is when someone has an illegal substance and they don’t possess it for delivery or sale, said Brent Cooper, District Attorney General for the 22nd Judicial District.

Ramsey: Insure TN, medical marijuana bills DOA

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey tells the Kingsport Times-News that bills on Insure Tennessee and medical marijuana don’t have a chance of passage this session.

“This is 2016 and we’re going to have a new president in November one way or the other,” Ramsey said in a recent meeting with members of the Times-News Editorial Board. “Every Republican presidential nominee has basically said that we will give the money to the states in block grants and allow us to design our own (Medicaid) program. … They would say, ‘Here’s your $3.1 billion and design your own plan.’ I think we can do that. … Even TennCare (the state’s current Medicaid program) experts say that is the case. … The timing is bad now, (Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican) is not going to bring (Insure Tennessee) back up.”

But Ramsey also noted House and Senate Democrats will try something to bring Insure Tennessee back up for consideration.

…Concerning a new push to have medical marijuana in Tennessee, Ramsey said: “I don’t think it has a prayer.”

GOP senator pushes over-the-counter birth control

News release via Senate Republican Caucus
(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), January 13, 2016 – State Senator Steven Dickerson (R-Nashville) said today he is introducing legislation that would give women more convenient access to birth control by allowing them to go directly to a pharmacist to get a prescription. The bill would apply to women over the age of 18 and includes pills and potentially hormonal patch contraceptives.

“This legislation aims to provide timely and convenient access for Tennessee women to birth control,” said Senator Dickerson, who is an anesthesiologist. “Requiring a physician’s prescription can be an obstacle to access and effective use, especially among low-income women. One of the barriers for women is the fact they need to go to a doctor’s office to get a prescription. Often, this burdens them with missing work or takes them away from their family.”

Dickerson said the details of the bill are still being worked out, but that it would include providing pharmacists with a “risks list” to ensure patient safety.

“Given the large amount of research on oral contraceptives, I believe women can safely make a decision about these medications,” he added.

Oregon and California were the first states to allow women to buy birth control without a doctor’s prescription. Oregon’s statute has already implemented, while California’s law is expected to take effect in March.

Note: The Tennessean reports Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, is planning similar legislation:
Although Dickerson said the specifics of his bill are still being discussed, Yarbro said he plans to file his version of the birth control bill as early as this week. It would effectively do the same exact thing as Dickerson’s bill.

Pharmacy charged meds for dead to TennCare

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Nashville company will pay as much as $7.8 million in a settlement related to accusations that it charged Medicare and TennCare for medications for dead patients.

The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/1MSqyYO ) reports U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee David Rivera on Tuesday announced the settlement of the False Claims Act case involving Nashville Pharmacy Services, which specializes in dispensing HIV and AIDS medications.

According to a news release, the company billed Medicare and TennCare for medications for 15 patients after they had died and billed for medications for 22 people who didn’t have prescriptions.

The company didn’t admit liability, but will have to make contingency payments based on its revenue to the federal and state governments for the next five years. Rivera says those payments could reach $7.8 million.

TN pain pill prescriptions down 15%

Since 2012, the amount of opiates like oxycodone and hydrocodone prescribed in Tennessee has dropped by about 15 percent or roughly a billion milligrams, reports WPLN.

“I think there’s been a lot of factors that have been responsible,” says David Reagan, who is Tennessee’s chief medical officer. “It’s really the attention of everyone being willing to say, ‘hey, we’ve got a problem here.'”

The database that’s tracking the drugs has been around for more than a decade, but not until 2012 were doctors required to use it. By logging in, they know if a patient is already getting drugs from another prescriber and how many pharmacies they’ve visited recently.

A third of physicians using the database told the state through a survey that they were now more likely to refer a patient to addiction treatment.

And the state knows which physicians are the heaviest prescribers, though the names are kept confidential.

…“Some of them simply have busy practices and they’re doing a good job and what they do is pain medicine, so by making a list like that public, it would create misconceptions in the public’s mind about individual practices that would be inappropriate.”

While the state won’t disclose the doctors doing the most prescribing, it is showing the counties where the most pain pills are sold through pharmacies. There’s been a big year-over-year decrease in parts of Northeast Tennessee, which has had the biggest problem with pain pills in recent years. But rural parts of the Cumberland Plateau and along the Tennessee River have seen a spike in the last year.

…While prescriptions are down statewide, overdose deaths have not yet peaked.

The officials figures for 2015 won’t come out for months, but 2014 set another record with 1263 deaths — hundreds more than the number of Tennesseans killed in car accidents.

Obama grants pre-Christmas commutations to two TN drug offenders

Two federal prison inmates from Tennessee, both convicted on charges of distributing cocaine, are among 95 persons receiving pre-Christmas sentence commutations from President Obama, according to a White House press release.

They are listed as Glenn D. Gold of Clarksville and Marcus Stovall of Etowah.

Here’s the information on the two contained in the press release:

Glen D. Gold — Clarksville, TN

Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and cocaine base; possession with intent to distribute cocaine and cocaine base; use of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime; felon in possession of a firearm (Middle District of Tennessee)

Sentence: Life plus 60 months’ imprisonment; five years’ supervised release (Apr. 23, 1997)

Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 16, 2016

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Marcus Stovall – Etowah, TN

Offense: Possession of cocaine base with intent to distribute (Eastern District of Tennessee)

Sentence: 240 months’ imprisonment; 10 years’ supervised release (Oct. 21, 2002)

Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 16, 2016.


Note: The press release is HERE. Stovall had a petition to vacate his sentence rejected by the court in 2013 and the order in that matter is HERE. Gold’s brother had petitioned the president for a commutation on the change.org website, posted HERE.