Latelines for July 2, 2001
In response to two deaths linked to compounded betamethasone injections, California state Sen. Tom Torlakson (D) said he is drafting legislation to require stricter oversight of pharmacists who make their own injectable products. Public health officials in Contra Costa County said as many as 60 people may have been injected with betamethasone that was contaminated with Serratia bacteria. The shots were compounded at Doc's Pharmacy in Walnut Creek.
The AMA house of delegates reaffirmed the association's opposition to therapeutic substitution at its annual conference in Chicago last month. The policymaking body said AMA would encourage states to pass laws banning the practice.
Abbott Laboratories cut the prices it charges Medicaid for about 50 injectable, IV, and anesthesia drugs. The drugs and similar ones from other firms have been the focus of a federal investigation into the pharmaceutical industry's pricing practices.
Flu vaccine supplies are expected to be late for the upcoming season, according to CDC. However, the delay should not be as severe as the delivery woes experienced last fall. Health providers who stage mass immunizations were asked to hold off until late October or November. The companies producing vaccine have reported manufacturing problems as they try to expand operations, said CDC officials.
Johnson & Johnson and Alza Corp. have completed their previously announced merger, following Alza shareholder approval of the all-stock deal. Alza, a pharmaceutical and drug technology firm based in Mountain View, Calif., will retain its name and operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of J&J.
Pharmacists were among the dozen staffers who quit their jobs at the Hudson Valley Poison Control Center, which handles emergencies for 3.6 million people between New York City and Canada. The staffers quit to show support for the center's director, who was fired last month for allegedly not completing a grant project. Operating out of Phelps Memorial Hospital in Sleepy Hollow, the center is hiring a new staff. After the walkout, emergency calls were rerouted to a Syracuse poison control center.
The FDA is moving to stop sales of red yeast rice, a product being sold as a dietary supplement but which contains Merck & Co.'s cholesterol-lowering drug lovastatin. The agency sent warning letters within the past two months to two companies selling red yeast rice products containing lovastatinMaypro Industries and OraLabs. The action followed a March 30 ruling by a federal court in Utah that Pharmanex needs FDA approval to sell its red yeast rice product because legally it is a drug, not a dietary supplement. Pharmanex has appealed that decision. The company said it had stopped selling its product that contained red yeast rice following the March court ruling.
Pharmacists are more knowledgeable than the average physician when it comes to herbal medicine, according to a survey presented at the Sixth Annual UCLA Research Conference on Aging. The survey was conducted at the University of California among 47 doctors and pharmacists. Questions concerned indications, interactions, and side effects of some of the most common herbal remedies. Overall, the average "knowledge score" was 58%. Pharmacists scored substantially higher, with a mean score of 78% versus 50% for physicians.
National Prescription Administrators has launched a new Web site and on-line pharmacy at www.e-npa.com. The pharmacy benefit manager based in East Hanover, N.J., now lets users buy OTCs and sundry items through its on-line drugstore. NPA members can also order prescription refills after the initial script is filled by its mail-order pharmacy. The site also features health information, a network pharmacy locator, and the PBM's formulary list.
The Commission for Certification in Geriatric Pharmacy announced that its Certified Geriatric Pharmacist credential has been approved as a way for R.Ph.s to qualify as clinical pharmacist practitioners in North Carolina. As of last July 1, clinical pharmacist practitioners approved by the state medical and pharmacy boards can enter into drug therapy management agreements with physicians.
An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court seems to be the last chance for PhRMA to block Maine's prescription drug discount and price-control program. The six judges of the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston have declined to review a decision made by a panel of three of its members in May that upheld Maine's attempt to provide lower-cost Rx drugs for 325,000 uninsured or underinsured residents. The state is expected to start the Maine Rx program this fall.
Merck-Medco has given away nearly 200,000 drug samples representing more than 1.4 million days of medication therapy in the initial six months of its Generics First program, the company said June 20. Clinical pharmacists have conducted monthly visits with 1,700 M.D.s in 12 cities, and another 6,000 M.D.s ordered samples and patient education material via a fax/mail-order form.
Rite Aid lowered prices on nearly 200 frequently filled cash prescription products at its more than 3,600 locations. The move to lower prices is intended to make Rite Aid more competitive in local markets and follows a move by the company to lower prices on front-end merchandise. Banners and signs at local stores will announce the price reductions to customers. In addition, the new lower cash prescription prices will be touted in advertising circulars and national radio commercials. According to a Rite Aid spokeswoman, "We started lowering prices on cash prescriptions last November market by market, with Oregon, Washington, and New Orleans first. All markets are now complete. This [lowering of prices] applies only to cash Rxs, which is 10% of our pharmacy business. It will not affect any of our prescriptions that are paid in part or full by insurance companies or other third parties."
Lawmakers in Maine have passed a bill that they hope will help control illegal diversion and abuse of prescription narcotic drugs and designer "club drugs." The new act will establish security requirements for written Rxs for Schedule II drugs primarily through the use of tamper-proof prescription forms. It also makes it easier to bring forgery charges when bogus forms are used. Failure to disclose recent narcotic prescriptions from other physicians or use of a false name ("doctor shopping") will fall within the definition of "deception" and will result in serious penalties. The law also outlaws "club drugs," such as ecstasy and ketamine.
The FDA has approved an expanded indication for Wyeth-Ayerst's proton pump inhibitor Protonix Delayed Release Tablets (pantoprazole). The drug, initially approved for the short-term treatment (up to 16 weeks) of erosive esophagitis (EE) associated with GERD, can now be used for maintenance healing of EE and reduction in relapse rates of daytime and nighttime heartburn symptoms in patients with GERD.
Latelines. Drug Topics 2001;13:9.