A federal judge recently slammed Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick for his statewide ban of the opioid drug Zohydro, despite it being cleared for use by the Food and Drug Administration.
Patrick declared a public health emergency last month in addressing the issue of opioid addiction in Massachusetts and banned the drug as part of that effort on Mar. 27. The order immediately shut down the dispensing and prescribing of Zohydro in the state until “adequate measures are in place to safeguard against the potential for diversion, overdose and misuse.”
U.S. District Court Judge Rya Zobel said the ban will remain in effect until another court hearing on Monday, but said she was skeptical of his authority to ban a drug that has been deemed safe and called his actions “out of line.” She also expressed displeasure that Patrick’s administration did not notify Zogenix, the maker of Zohydro, before banning the drug. The drug company has already sued Patrick and Department of Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett, asking for an injunction to overturn the ban.
Assistant Attorney General Jo Ann Shotwell Kaplan, who represents Patrick and Bartlett, declared that the governor acted within his rights in creating the ban. “There was and is a severe public health emergency that caused the governor to react as he did there,” said Shotwell Kaplan. “We have unprecedented numbers of people dying from heroin overdoses and other opiate overdoses…To add to this marketplace at this time a drug that’s especially, unusually, more than any other drug capable of this kind of abuse and fatality is a public health issue.”
Attorney Steven Hollman, who represents Zogenix, said Patrick’s concerns of Zohydro abuse are not their responsibility because the FDA rejected requiring the company to use abuse-deterrent technology. The current pill can be crushed by users, meaning that the contents of the drug can be snorted. An abuse-deterrent form of Zohydro is currently being created, but won’t hit the market for another two to three years.
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A groundbreaking new trial study being conducted by the UK’s National Health Service seeks to radically alter how Britain approaches its drug treatment strategies.
The NHS has been giving £10 vouchers to opiate drug users, including heroin addicts, in exchange for a clean urine sample. The department’s move came after a separate study conducted by the National Addiction Centre at King’s College London found that a £30 pound incentive greatly encouraged intravenous drug users to receive vaccinations for hepatitis B (HBV).
Led by professor John Strang, that particular study found a “striking” rise in vaccinations that researchers hoped would change public policy on treatment for drug abuse.
“We understand that ill-at-ease feeling because it will be what we ourselves are feeling,” Strang said. “But the nature of medicine and its development is that you need to examine the evidence and improve methods of treatment.”
Roughly one in five intravenous drug users in the UK suffer from hepatitis B, with almost 25 percent dying from untreated liver disease. “There is a clear health benefit to the individual in terms of reducing the risk of infection,” said Dr. Tim Weaver, a research fellow at the Centre for Research on Drugs and Health Behaviour at Imperial College London. “There is also a public health benefit, reducing the risk of transmission to others.”
Ralph Mata, 45, of Broward County was arrested on Tuesday in Miami Gardens, FL on aiding and abetting a narcotics trafficking organization. Investigators declined to name the organization, but did confirm that the group smuggled drugs from Ecuador and the Dominican Republic.
In a criminal complaint unsealed in the U.S. District Court of New Jersey, Mata, a former internal affairs lieutenant for the Miami-Dade Police Department, used his status as a police officer to help the organization in a plot to distribute cocaine in the Garden State and provided them with sensitive police information, including a tip about $419,000 seized from a New Jersey home.
Mata also plotted to help the organization kill rival drug dealers. According to the complaint, the plan was for two members of the organization to pose as police officers in order to take out their intended targets.
"Ultimately, the (organization) decided not to move forward with the murder plot, but Mata still received a payment for setting up the meetings," said federal prosecutors.
He also provided the organization with illegal weapons that he transported in his carry-on luggage from Miami to the Dominican Republic.
Mata faces charges of aiding and abetting a conspiracy to distribute cocaine, conspiring to distribute cocaine, and engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity. The narcotics charges each carry a maximum life sentence in prison.
The self-proclaimed Pothead Princess, who infamously tweeted “2 drunk 2 care” hours before killing two best friends in a wrong-way collision in November, made her first appearance in court after being arrested on Monday and charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter.
Kayla Mendoza, 21, was brought to Broward Main Jail in South Florida in a police-escorted ambulance and was wheeled inside on a stretcher because she is still suffering from injuries sustained in the crash five months ago.
Mendoza was 20 years old at the time of the collision and had a blood alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit. After sending her infamous tweet, Mendoza went the wrong way down the Sawgrass Expressway and plowed into a Toyota Camry that was carrying best friends Kaitlyn Ferrante and Marisa Catronio. Catronio was in the passenger seat and was pronounced dead at the scene. Ferrante died days later from her injuries at Broward Health North Hospital. Both were 21.
"She changed the lives of our family forever," said Gary Catronio. "You took my baby girl. You took my wife's best friend. You made bad decisions that night. The right decision was to have a friend drive you home."
Earlier in the year, Mendoza earned nationwide attention for her numerous Twitter posts that boasted about her party girl lifestyle. She described herself as a so-called Pot Princess, and sent tweets like “I break all my bongs cuz I have butter fingers” and “I have a test at 8am, why am I drunk right now.”
Alongside vehicular manslaughter, Mendoza faces charges of manslaughter and driving without a license. Seeing her finally put behind bars gave the victims' grieving parents some degree of relief. "I don't want her to ever feel the sunshine ever," said Kaitlyn’s mother, Christine Ferrante. "I want her to stay locked away forever."
The illegal drug trade is taking a major hit with the ongoing decriminalization of marijuana in the United States. The drop in sales has forced the Mexican trafficking organizations to replace wholesale marijuana with heroin. Because of the shift in the cartels' business model, U.S. authorities are now experiencing a major outbreak of cheap heroin across North America.
Heroin has been in the midst of a major comeback since 2007. The National Drug Intelligence Center, which was shut down in 2012 and its functions transferred to the Drug Enforcement Administration, reported that between 2007-2012 heroin use was up 79 percent with four out of five users reported to have used prescription drugs like Oxycontin.
There has been a major crackdown on the abuse of prescription drugs, pushing users to the more inexpensive and easily portable drug heroin. Attorney General Eric Holder reported that about 80 percent of heroin users have previously taken pain medication without a prescription. Because of the seamless transition from prescription pills, street heroin has been “moving all over the country and popping up in areas you didn’t see before,” said Carl Pike, a senior official in the Special Operations Division of the DEA.
Pike and other DEA officials believe the spread to be a result of a clever marketing plan developed by Mexican traffickers. The dealers did their research and found areas that have historically had the worst prescription drug abuse like Maine, St. Louis, and Oklahoma City. One agent said that the traffickers sent street dealers to “set up right outside the methadone clinics.”
New heroin typically users begin by snorting the drug until eventually working their way up to intravenous use for a more powerful high. The cheaper price tag of the heroin aids the transition from pills, which can go for up to $80 a pop with effects that last four-to-six hours.