Latelines for Sept. 3, 2001



Pharmaceutical market to see above-average year for 2001

Pharmaceutical dollar sales will be up 15% to 17%, while retail prescriptions dispensed, including mail order, will rise 5.5% for the year 2001. This translates to three billion Rxs dispensed and more than $160 billion worth of sales. This is the forecast of Douglas Long, v.p. of industry relations at IMS Health, who spoke at the recent NACDS pharmacy conference in Chicago.

HMOs can't mandate mail-order Rxs in Missouri

A federal appeals court has upheld a Missouri law that bars HMOs from forcing members to use mail-order pharmacies. The PBM Express Scripts was one of the plaintiffs in a 1998 lawsuit against the state department of insurance, asserting that Missouri's any-willing-provider pharmacy provision violated federal law. The federal appeals court finding reaffirmed a lower U.S. district court ruling in favor of the insurance department.

Fla. pharmacies hit by Medicaid requests for pay

Pharmacists in Florida have been hit hard lately by requests from Florida Medicaid for payment returns of up to $1.2 million. The Agency for Health Care Administration contracted with auditing firm Heritage Information Systems, Richmond, in 1999 to increase detection of fraud and abuse in filling Medicaid prescriptions. One source said attempted recoupments have been as high as $1 million in one pharmacy. Meanwhile, pharmacists deny they are being charged with fraud. Instead, they claim they are being charged because of clerical mistakes, missing documentation, or failure to keep written records.

CVS slapped with class action suit

A class action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of purchasers of the securities of CVS Corp. between Feb. 6 and June 27. The action is pending in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts against defendants CVS and Tom Ryan, the firm's president/ CEO. The complaint alleges that the defendants violated the Securities Exchange Act by issuing positive statements concerning CVS business and operations that failed to disclose, among other things, that the company was unable to successfully address the national shortage of pharmacists and that this shortage was negatively impacting business, causing the company's expansion plans to be scaled back.

Ophthalmic drug gains indication

Visudyne (verteporfin for injection) has been cleared for treating predominantly classic subfoveal choroidal neovascularization (CNV) due to pathologic myopia and presumed ocular histoplasmosis. Novartis Ophthalmics and QLT, which codeveloped the product, said Visudyne is the only drug approved for these conditions, which can produce vision loss. Visudyne was formerly approved in April 2000 for treating predominantly classic CNV caused by age-related macular degeneration.

Food retailers eye purchase of drug chains

Because many long-term factors support the growth of drug chains, whereas supermarket companies typically report slow growth, you might soon see food retailers on the prowl for drug chains. Specifically, Safeway could be looking to make such an acquisition in the next five years. That's the assessment of Bear Stearns analyst Deborah Weinswig, who spoke at the NACDS pharmacy conference in Chicago last month. Consolidation could also be aided by an accounting change, which took place this past June, making acquisitions less of a drag on earnings, noted Jerry Marcus, senior managing director of the retail group at Bear Stearns.

Boston pols debate OxyContin limits

Concerned about 40 drugstore robberies in the metro area since February, two Boston councilors want OxyContin sales restricted to 10 secure pharmacies scattered around the city. The pharmacies handling the Schedule II painkiller would be in HMOs, health centers, and hospitals. Having institutions dispense retail scripts could pose problems, including regulatory and pricing issues, said Charles Young, Massachusetts pharmacy board executive director. While cooperating with state law and public health agencies to halt pharmacy robberies, the board does not want to keep OxyContin from patients who need it for pain relief, Young said.

New support program helps Xenical patients

A new six-month comprehensive weight-loss program tailored to support patients taking Roche's weight-loss prescription medication Xenical (orlistat) is now available free of charge. XENICare provides educational information and motivational techniques through newsletters and ongoing phone contact with a health professional. Patients can enroll in XENICare at their doctor's office, their pharmacy, or by calling 1-(800) XENICare.

TV anchorman alleges Rx error

David Cruz, a Los Angeles news anchor with KNBC-TV, is recuperating at home after he collapsed on air July 25 allegedly due to a dispensing error. Cruz, who was hospitalized, contends his Lipitor refill was misfilled with an antiseizure medication at an unidentified pharmacy. The anchorman is mulling over his legal options and has retained attorney Walter J. Lack of Erin Brockovich fame.

Michigan Blues enlist R.Ph.s for generic campaign

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is asking R.Ph.s to spread the good word to consumers about the quality and value of generic drugs. Participating pharmacies can enter a contest to increase the percentage of Rxs filled with generics. Winners of the campaign will be featured in a million-dollar media campaign early next year. The Blues' average generic rate is about 38%, but every 1% increase translates to $17 million in savings.

Group seeks stronger warnings on statins

In response to the recent withdrawal of Baycol (cerivastatin), the consumer group Public Citizen has petitioned the FDA to add a black-box warning highlighting the risk of rhabdomyolysis to the label of all the statins currently available. The group would also like consumers to be given FDA-approved Medication Guides warning them of the early symptoms (muscle pain or weakness) of this potentially life-threatening adverse effect. In its petition, the group charges that there have been 81 deaths associated with the five remaining statins. The FDA has disputed this number, saying its own investigation last year uncovered 18 deaths that could be linked to the five statins.

Pfizer has prepared a consumer-friendly brochure to be distributed with every bottle of Lipitor (atorvastatin) and has requested the FDA to approve it. Merck, manufacturer of Zocor (simvastatin) and Mevacor (lovastatin), said it provides information using lay language on its Web site. Novartis maintains the risk of rhabdomyolysis with its Lescol (fluvastatin) is small and that patients are appropriately warned.

National Pharmacy Week slated for mid-October

APhA has issued a planning guide to help pharmacists celebrate National Pharmacy Week, Oct. 21-27. The guide to suggested events, resource materials, and publicity tips is available on the Web at . Just click on the Public Relations & Media button.

Longs Drug buys RxAmerica

Longs Drug Stores Corp. exercised an option to buy out Albertson's interest in RxAmerica, their joint-venture PBM. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Longs president/CEO Steve Roath commented that RxAmerica has significant financial and strategic value to the drugstore chain's pharmacy operations and may create synergy with Longs' e-commerce business as well.

Zoloft OK'd for long-term use in PTSD

Pfizer has received FDA approval for the long-term use of Zoloft (sertraline) in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That makes sertraline the only agent approved for both short- and long-term PTSD. The approval was based on a placebo-controlled study showing treatment with sertraline produced significantly lower relapse rates and sustained symptom improvement over 28 weeks in both men and women. Sertraline is also indicated for major depression, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder in both children and adults.


Marina Marketos. Latelines. Drug Topics Sep. 3, 2001;145:5.

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