Pain pill crackdown affects local pharmacies - Tucson News Now

Pain pill crackdown affects local pharmacies

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

A federal crackdown on pain pills is causing a lot of pain for some pharmacies. 

Because of the high rate of abuse of certain controlled medications like Oxycodone, Percocet, etc. pharmacies are now limited on the amount of controlled prescriptions they can get from their whole salers, the drug companies.

If you exceed that limit, you're cut off.   Local pharmacists never expected that they would get caught up in the federal crackdown on distributors of prescription pain pills.

Six months ago, one wholesale drug company abruptly cut off supplies of narcotics to the locally owned Medicine Shoppe pharmacy in Tucson.

Pharmacists were told that the volume of pain drugs and other controlled prescriptions they were dispensing was too high.

Deborah Van Sant, a pharmacist and owner of the Medicine Shoppe said she is allowed to order 4500 units of Oxycodone every month.  As a fairly new pharmacy they have been trying to grow their customer base and getting new contracts to supply medication for several nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the area.

Van Sant said she went over the limit by less than a dozens pills.  Instead of asking for records, reasons, or an explanation, Van Sant said they were suddenly told their wholesaler would no longer allow them to buy any controlled substances.

Van Sant said she was shocked.  In addition to dozens of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and the University of Arizona athletics department, she had dozens of chronically ill patients who relied on the pharmacy to deliver the drugs.

Its a nationwide problem.  Since last January, pharmaceutical wholesalers, who are feeling the pressure from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency have scrambled to limit their liability by closely monitoring their distribution pipelines, in some cases cutting off customers completely.

Dozens of pharmacies throughout the nation have been cut off, or told they have told to cut back on prescription drug orders.

Van Sant said if you walked into her pharmacy with a prescription for any controlled pain pill today, she would have to tell you she doesn't have any.  Her other option was to fill your prescription by getting the pills from another pharmacy, but the customer would have to drive there to pick up the meds.  Van Sant said she had lost a third of her business since they were cut off by their drug wholesaler.  That added up to almost a $1 Million in sales.

"It's not fair because we go above and beyond the state board's requirement to ensure we are filling legal prescriptions," said Van Sant.

Many customers were also feeling the pain, because they had to "pharmacy hop" to get their prescriptions filled.  Chris Earhardt had a severe nerve disease and lived with a lot of pain.

"It makes me mad when you need it, you can't get it.  Or I can drive to four or five different pharmacies all over town and end up all the way on the west side, and they don't have it," said Earhardt.

It's not just pharmacies, many local clinics and nurse practitioners said they too are feeling the pain.

"Patients have to suffer until something becomes available for them.  They go into withdrawal which is a very difficult, especially for the elderly specifically," said Charlene Gundry, a Family Nurse Practitioner.

Customers who shopped at large chain pharmacies said they too were often told they had to come back or wait until the new shipment of drugs came in.

Phil Caruso,a spokesman for Walgreens released this statement to us on Tuesday.

"With the sharp rise in the abuse of prescription painkillers in recent years, health care professionals in all practices are continuously striving to find better ways of ensuring those medications are used only for legitimate medical purposes. We are working to ensure our patients continue to have access to the medications they need while fulfilling our role in reducing the potential abuse of controlled substances. 

We firmly believe that addressing prescription drug abuse will require all parties – including leaders in the community, physicians, pharmacies, distributors and regulators – to play a role in finding practical solutions to combating abuse while balancing patient access to critical medication."

The Medicine Shoppe has already spent about $10,000 trying to fight this battle in court. 

The National Community Pharmacists Association is now weighing in.  Officials just released a statement saying they were aware of the escalating problem nationwide, and acknowledging that this a great concern for patients who needed the medication the most.  They are investigating the concerns and hope to open up a dialogue with federal officials and lawmakers to take a second look at the protocols.

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