Dump those (prescription) drugs
An estimated 200 million pounds of unused prescriptions are gathering dust in American medicine cabinets.
September 28th, 2012
11:07 AM ET

Dump those (prescription) drugs

Do a quick inventory of your medicine cabinet. How many unused prescription pills are hanging out there? If you are like many Americans, your answer is probably:

"Twenty hydrocodone left over from getting my wisdom teeth pulled last year," or

"Fifteen oxycodone left over from the C-section when my son was born."

An estimated 200 million pounds of unused prescriptions are gathering dust in American medicine cabinets, according to the National Community Pharmacists Association. The problem is, those innocuous-seeming leftovers can end up in the wrong hands and, in extreme cases, lead to an overdose.


Senate attacks drug distributors for price gouging
July 25th, 2012
06:05 PM ET

Senate attacks drug distributors for price gouging

The Senate Commerce Committee bashed drug distributors for up-charging patients at a hearing Wednesday about the “grey-market” for short-supply drugs.

The “grey market” is the second-hand market, where drugs, frequently in short supply, are re-distributed and sold by various distributors and wholesalers.

It’s an already dire situation for many patients in need. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, drug shortages have increased nearly 300% since 2005. Many of the drugs on this list are cancer treatments. The “grey market” only exacerbates the price and the shortage issue.

Drug distributors "are profiteers, people who exploit the misery of sick patients to make a quick buck," said committee chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D- West Virginia).

FDA approves Truvada for prevention of HIV/AIDS
July 16th, 2012
03:30 PM ET

FDA approves Truvada for prevention of HIV/AIDS

Adults who do not have HIV but are at risk of getting the disease will now be able to take a drug to reduce their chance of getting infected. For the first time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a drug for this use on Monday.

The drug is Truvada, an antiretroviral medication made by Gilead Sciences, Inc., which was already approved by the FDA in 2004 to help control HIV infection. 

Truvada is a combination of two HIV medications - emtricitabine (Emtriva) and tenofovir (Viread) - into one pill that is taken once a day.  As a treatment for HIV, it is always used in combination with other HIV drugs.


Kids taking fewer antibiotics, more ADHD meds
June 18th, 2012
07:45 AM ET

Kids taking fewer antibiotics, more ADHD meds

American children are taking fewer antibiotics now than 10 years ago, but prescriptions to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, have increased, according to a new report by the Food and Drug Administration.

FDA researchers analyzed large prescription drug databases, looking at more than 2,000 drugs, to identify the top 30 medications most prescribed to children up to age 17. 

They found 263.6 million prescriptions were filled for infant through adolescent patients in 2010 - down 7% compared to 2002.

However, a closer look at the numbers reveals that while prescriptions for some drugs went down, others were prescribed more often between 2002 and 2010. The findings were published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday.

May 30th, 2012
01:51 PM ET

FDA issues warning about counterfeit Adderall purchased online

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning about counterfeit generic Adderall tablets being sold on the Internet. Adderall is approved by the FDA to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy.

The FDA became aware of the problem when Teva Pharmaceutical Industries reported that a consumer alerted them about purchasing a fake version of Teva’s Adderall 30-milligram tablets from an illegal Internet pharmaceutical site.

The bogus version was discovered “by a consumer, who noticed misspellings on on the fake product packaging,” according to Denise Bradley, Teva Pharmacautical’s vice president of corporate communications. Bradley said two incidents have been reported to the FDA, and Teva Pharmaceuticals continues to work with the FDA on the investigation.

Teva’s authentic 30mg Adderall tablets are round, orange/peach in color and are imprinted with “dp” on one side and 30 on the other side of the tablet.  The tablets are packaged in bottles.  The active ingredients in authentic Adderall tablets are dextroamphetamine saccharate, amphetamine aspartate, dextroamphetamine sulfate and amphetamine sulfate. An analysis of the counterfeit tablets revealed they contained tramadol and acetaminophen, both used to treat acute pain, and they were in blister packages.

Both instances occurred when consumers tried to purchase Adderall from illegal websites rather than using legitimate distribution channels. The FDA noted that “consumers should be extra cautious when buying their medicines from online sources. Rogue websites and distributors may especially target medicines in short supply for counterfeiting.” Adderall is currently on the FDA drug shortage list because of active pharmaceutical ingredient supply issues.

“It is very important that patients purchase product through legitimate channels,” Bradley said. “Websites that do not require prescriptions are not reputable.”

The FDA website offers tips for consumers who want to purchase prescription drugs using the Internet. First, make sure that the site requires a prescription and has a pharmacist available to answer questions. Consumers should only buy prescription medications from licensed pharmacies located in the United States. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy  has information about legitimate U.S. online pharmacies, and provides information about licensing and certification for online pharmacies. Consumers should never provide personal data, such as credit card numbers, unless they are sure an online site is legitimate and will protect their information.

The FDA advises consumers who believe they have a counterfeit version of Teva’s Adderall 30mg tablets not to take the product, and to consult their health care professional about other treatment options. They should also contact the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations at 800-551-3989 or http://www.fda.gov/OCI.

Opium study raises questions about painkillers
Farmers harvest the opium sap from the poppy plant in Fayzabad, Badakhshan, Afghanistan.
April 17th, 2012
06:31 PM ET

Opium study raises questions about painkillers

About 20 million people are using the drug opium or one of its derivatives. A new study suggests new reasons for viewing this as problematic.

Research in the British Medical Journal finds strong connections between people using opium and conditions such as cancer, circulatory diseases and respiratory conditions.

"Long term recreational opioid use, even at relatively modest levels, causes important increases in death from multiple different causes," said study co-author Paul Brennan, head of the Section of Genetics at the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France.

Why it matters

Although this study focused on opium for recreational purposes, the research also has significant implications for medicinal uses of opium-derived painkillers - such as morphine and codeine, Irfan Dhalla, assistant professor at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, wrote in an accompanying editorial.


Ibuprofen may ward off altitude sickness
March 20th, 2012
12:07 PM ET

Ibuprofen may ward off altitude sickness

Ibuprofen has been used for decades to treat pain. Now, research suggests the drug's anti-inflammatory properties also may help prevent the piercing headaches and other symptoms of altitude sickness.

A small new study, published this week in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, found that people who took four 600-milligram doses of ibuprofen over a 24-hour period in which they ascended to 12,570 feet above sea level were less likely to experience altitude sickness than people taking a placebo.

Sixty-nine percent of the participants who took placebo during the ascent developed the headaches, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue that characterize altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness. By contrast, just 43% of people who took ibuprofen developed the condition.

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Filed under: Health.com • Medications

March 6th, 2012
05:21 PM ET

Veterans with PTSD more likely to be be prescribed painkillers

As veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan, they continue to experience pain at home. And those who are diagnosed with mental health issues, including PTSD, are most likely to be prescribed opioid painkillers, according to a new study.

When surveying more than 140,000 veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq who had been diagnosed with some sort of pain, the study’s authors found that veterans with any mental health diagnosis, including depression, anxiety disorders, or drug and alcohol abuse, were 2.4 more times likely to be prescribed opioid painkillers, like oxycodone and hydrocodone, than veterans without any mental health diagnosis.

When looking at veterans diagnosed with PTSD, in particular, that rate was even higher. 17% of those with PTSD were prescribed opioids compared to just 6.5% of veterans without any mental health diagnosis.

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Filed under: Medications • Pain • PTSD

The animal products in your medicine cabinet
February 27th, 2012
06:30 PM ET

The animal products in your medicine cabinet

Most of us put a good deal of thought into the food we put in our bodies. But do we ever consider the food in our medicine?

That's right, the food in our medicine.

While television and print ads alike are loaded with messages about potential serious side effects, prescription drug disclaimers are issued to warn against possible unintended consequences resulting from a drug’s active ingredient(s).

But what you may not know is that the bulk of your prescription pill is made up of inactive ingredients, known as “excipients," and that your drugs couldn’t be made without them. Quite simply, excipients are what encapsulates your capsule or forms your pill into a solid as opposed to a powder.

Here’s the rub: One of the most common excipients used is gelatin, which is almost universally of animal origin. This presents a problem, as you might imagine, to those living within religious or dietary restrictions.


Studies suggest Avastin can help ovarian cancer patients
December 29th, 2011
05:35 PM ET

Studies suggest Avastin can help ovarian cancer patients

Two studies released in this week's New England Journal of Medicine suggest the drug Avastin may benefit some ovarian cancer patients.

The two studies found that adding Avastin to chemotherapy treatment can stall the growth of cancer by almost four months. Avastin, which has the generic name Bevacizumab, stops the growth of blood vessels that feed cancerous tumors, say researchers. However, it is still unclear if it will extend patients' lives.


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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.