Sunday, December 22, 2013

Is Florida Turning a Corner?

According to a brand new study, published online this week in the journal, Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety, Florida's recent legislative actions to 1.) strengthen the state's prescription drug monitoring program, and 2.) toughen the regulation of the state's pain clinics, seem to be having the desired effect: drug diversion has been dropping steadily since 2011. In addition, according to the state's commission of medical examiners, prescription opioid overdose deaths are dropping too. Here's the abstract from the article and a figure of the models of longitudinal change, according to each drug: 

Reductions in prescription opioid diversion following recent legislative interventions in Florida
Surratt, et al., 2013

Florida has been at the center of the nation's ongoing prescription opioid epidemic, with largely unregulated pain clinics and lax prescribing oversight cited as significant contributors to the opioid problem in the state.

In an effort to mitigate prescription opioid abuse and diversion in Florida, legislative interventions were implemented during 2010 and 2011, which included two primary elements: (i) comprehensive legislation to better regulate the operation of pain clinics; and (ii) a statewide prescription drug monitoring program to promote safer prescribing practices. Using systematic longitudinal data collected on a quarterly basis from law enforcement agencies across Florida, this report examined changes in prescription opioid diversion rates following implementation of these regulatory initiatives. Quarterly diversion rates for buprenorphine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, methadone, morphine, oxycodone, and tramadol were calculated, and subsequently, hierarchical linear models were fit to test for differences in diversion rates over the 15 quarter period of interest.

Significant declines in diversion rates were observed for oxycodone, methadone, and morphine; hydrocodone displayed a marginally significant decline.

This study documented reductions in statewide opioid diversion rates following implementation of Florida's pain clinic and prescription drug monitoring program legislative interventions. Although these initial findings appear promising, continued surveillance of diversion is clearly warranted. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Poor and Non-Whites Less Likely to Receive Opioid for Pain in ERs

Race and Socioeconomic Status Affect Emergency Department Opioid Prescribing for Pain

Prior research suggests that factors besides pain—such as patient race and ethnicity—affect opioid prescribing for pain, but those studies have often not adjusted for socioeconomic status (SES). In this study, investigators examined the association between race, ethnicity, and neighborhood SES on prescription of an opioid during an emergency department (ED) visit for moderate or severe pain in the National Hospital Ambulatory Care Survey. During 4 years there were over 183 million visits and opioids were prescribed during 50,264 of them.
  • Compared with patients living in areas with the highest SES, patients living in areas with the lowest SES were less likely to receive opioids (39% versus 49% when neighborhood poverty was >20%; 41% versus 47% when median income was <$33,000; and 43% versus 46% when <13 a="" bachelor="" degree="" held="" li="" s="">
  • Black (39% versus 46% for white) and Hispanic (40% versus 45% for non-Hispanic) patients were less likely to receive opioids.
  • All differences were significant in analyses adjusted for race, ethnicity, SES, sex, pain severity, injury, hospital type, past ED visits, and geography.


This study adjusted for neighborhood rather than individual SES. Nonetheless, it does provide support for the hypothesis that race, ethnicity, and SES impact opioid receipt for pain. Clinicians should be aware that this may happen, and researchers should attend to discovering why, with an eye toward eliminating any inappropriate disparities.Richard Saitz MD, MPH


Joynt M, Train MK, Robbins BW, et al. The Impact of Neighborhood Socioeconomic Status and Race on the Prescribing of Opioids in Emergency Departments Throughout the United StatesJ Gen Intern Med. 2013 [Epub ahead of print]. PMID: 23797920.

Monday, December 16, 2013

If You Build It, They Will Drink

If there were lingering doubts about the effect of alcohol availability on alcohol consumption, a host of new studies seem to lead the reader to the same conclusion: that increases in availability are correlated to increases in consumption. In other words: if you build it (bar, liquor store, etc), we will drink. What's more, in many cases, it's not just drinking that will happen. So-called alcohol outlet density has been linked to interpersonal and intimate partner violence, adolescent consumption and beliefs about alcohol, and even alcohol-attributable deaths. On the other hand, raising the minimum prices or implementing taxes on alcohol sales seems to go a long way in reducing these potential harms.

The journal, Addiction, has published several of these studies online in the past few weeks. Gruenewald and colleagues analyzed survey data from 50 California cities with populations between 50,000 - 500,000. They found "greater on-premise outlet densities were related to greater drinking frequencies and volumes, and use of on-premise drinking places" (like bars and restaurants).  The researchers concluded that, in addition to characteristics of the individual drinkers (e.g. "impulsivity, risky driving), alcohol availability is correlated with consumption and related problems.

Also in-press at AddictionPaschall and colleagues analyzed the same sample, but instead focused on adolescent drinking. Some 1478 California youths, aged 13-17, responded to survey questions about past-year alcohol consumption, perceived availability, and questions related to underage enforcement and parental views toward drinking. The answers to these questions were then compared against alcohol outlet (bar) density, public policy, law enforcement activity and city demographics. The authors found that adolescent behaviors and attitudes were significantly affected by their environments. For example, past-year alcohol use was positively correlated to bar density and inversely correlated to "the comprehensiveness and stringency of local alcohol policies". In addition, higher rates of adult drinking were associated with greater increases of past-year adolescent drinking over the three-year study period.

Over in Alcohol and Alcoholism, Grubesic and colleagues studied the association between outlet density in Philadelphia and violent crime. Once again, the researchers found consistent association between the two. Here is a pair of maps, the first showing assault density, the second showing outlet density:

Contrary to the popular belief, no association was found between assault density and "transportation nodes and risky retailers". However, alcohol expenditures and general commercial activity were "positively and significantly" associated with assault density. 

The connection between intimate partner violence (IPV) and alcohol outlet density seems to be well established. In 2012, Conradi and colleagues reported that the density of bars in California was positively associated with IPV-related emergency department visits between 2005-2008. Then, earlier this year, Waller and colleagues found alcohol outlet density to be positively correlated to male-to-female physical - but not sexual - IPV among a national sample. Finally, in March, Zhao and colleagues showed that alcohol outlet density was associated with an increase in alcohol-attributable deaths in British Columbia between 2002-2009. In fact, they calculated that a 10% increase in private liquor stores was associated with a 2.45%, 2.36% and 1.99% increase in acute, chronic and total alcohol-associated (AA) mortality rates.

Interestingly, the single policy that seemed to have the biggest impact in turning these numbers around: raising the minimum price for alcohol. A 10% increase in the minimum price was associated with a 31.72% reduction in "wholly AA deaths". Pretty big numbers. As Dr W observed recently, "raising taxes on alcohol would do more for public health than all the treatment in the world.

What do you think?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

MMT and 12-Step Groups: Stigma Persists

In his latest contribution to the academic literature, William L. White and colleagues turn their focus on 12-Step participation among patients in methadone maintenance treatment (MMT). Rates of self-reported Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) attendance were very high; however, participants frequently reported that their MMT status prevented them from taking part in many of the "key ingredients" of the groups that most members take for granted. When asked about the experience, nearly half of all respondents who had attended NA or AA reported that they had "received negative comments about methadone use" and nearly "a quarter (24.4%) reported having had a serious problem within NA or AA related to their status as a methadone patient."

The following table from the report details the "frequency with which respondents faced particular challenges":

Table 4: NA and AA Responses to MMT Patient Status                                NA            AA

Response to MM Patient Status:                                                                         (n=228)     (n=142)

Received negative comments about methadone use                                                43.0%     45.1%

Were pressured to reduce the dose of methadone                                                  21.9%     23.2%

Were pressured to stop taking methadone                                                             32.9%     34.5%

Were denied the right to speak at a meeting because of being
in methadone treatment                                                                                         14.5%      14.1%

Were denied the right to become a sponsor because of being                                  8.8%        9.9%
in methadone treatment

White and colleagues implemented this small study at not-for-profit opioid treatment program (OTP) in the Northeastern US. A total of 322 respondents answered a 53-question survey about their participation in recovery support groups. Of the 322, 259 (80.4%) reported a primary affiliation with a recovery support group. Of these, 88.8% reported it to be in some way a 12-Step group. Importantly, 66% of respondents reported past-year NA/AA participation, with 88-89% reporting the group was "helpful".

Despite these figures, the authors found MMT patients had low rates of participation in the "key ingredients" that seem to be critical influencers of long-term recovery outcomes: having a home group (50%), having a sponsor (26%), sponsoring others (13%), attending 12-Step social events (23%), and active step work (21%).

Anecdotally, we see a lot of patients at Alltyr who have a hard time finding a place in the local 12-Step scene. We even began compiling a list of medication-friendly meetings in the Twin Cities as we learned about them, but the stigma associated with maintenance is still prevalent. Could it be that we are on the verge of another breakthrough in medication acceptance? After all, there was a time when you weren't considered "sober" if you were on antidepressant or antipsychotic medications (but now, as Dr W likes to say, you're more likely to be referred to the psychiatrist by your sponsor than by anyone else). We would be interested to hear reader stories about this experience - or opinions on the topic. Are things changing - or not?

See the full paper by White, et al., here: