World pharmacy news roundup: 24 March 2016

Our weekly wrapup of pharmacy news from around the world

Orlando, Florida: A pharmacist is facing up to 20 years in US federal prison after dispensing more than 500,000 oxycodone pills during a conspiracy to divert the medicine to illicit use.

Orlando pharmacist Valentine Okonkwo was found guilty this week of one count of conspiracy to distribute and dispense oxycodone outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose and 10 counts of dispensing and distributing oxycodone outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose.

According to evidence presented during the trial, Okonkwo collected more than $1.3 million from illegal oxycodone sales. He also had sex with several customers who had used fraudulent prescriptions at his pharmacy.

Okonkwo accepted fraudulent prescriptions from patients who had traveled long distances, and in groups, to obtain oxycodone from his Avalon Park Pharmacy. They paid a premium in cash for the medicine.

Avalon Park Pharmacy led the surrounding area in oxycodone distribution, including all of the major retail pharmacies.

Many of the oxycodone pills were purchased by drug addicts and dealers who then sold the pills for up to $15 each.


Chandigarh, India: A pharmacist has attempted to self-immolate during a protest by the Punjab Rural Health Pharmacist Union, the Tribune India reports.

Around 100 union members protested against the state government and Punjab Police, but were stopped outside Chandigarh by the Chandigarh and Mohali police. The pharmacists’ contract period was to end on March 31 and they were demanding that their contract be extended or their services be regularised.

One protester began pouring petrol on himself, but he was stopped from igniting it. Five of the protesters were arrested and later released on bail.


Moscow, Russia: A Russian pharmacy is experiencing a run on meldonium following the recent controversy around tennis star Maria Sharapova and the drug, the Moscow Times reports.

A pharmacist at the store, at the State Duma, said that it would previously order only one box of meldonium at a time, but “now we can’t seem to deliver enough”.

When Sharapova failed a doping test for the drug, it seemed to act as an advertisement, the pharmacist said.

Meldonium is manufactured in Latvia and used in Russia and other former Soviet republics to treat several conditions, including chest pain and cardiovascular disease.

Earlier this month the World Anti-Doping Agency confirmed it was aware of the Sharapova case.

“We can confirm that meldonium was added to the 2016 Prohibited List which took effect on 1 January 2016, having previously been on WADA’s monitoring program for the duration of 2015,” it said in a statement.

“Meldonium was added [to the Prohibited List] because of evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance.”


Dublin, Ireland: The Irish Independent has been slamming pharmacies for charging too much for medicines.

Two pieces by the Independent’s Charlie Weston quote Professor Michael Barry, consultant clinical pharmacologist and head of the department of pharmacology and therapeutics at Trinity College Dublin, and clinical director of the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics, which conducts economic evaluations on medicines prior to reimbursement under state schemes.

Prof Barry says the next Irish government should consider cutting fees to pharmacists to lower prices, saying consumers are paying more in dispensing fees to pharmacists than for the medicines themselves.

“Unless there is another move by the State to cut the fees to the sector—there were cuts in fees in the past few years—then retail pharmacy will continue to be a prescription for super profits and poor value for consumers,” Weston writes.


US: The Food and Drug Administration has announced required class-wide safety labelling changes for immediate-release opioid pain medicines.

The FDA is requiring a new boxed warning about the serious risks of misuse, abuse, addiction, overdose and deaths.

The change is just part of the FDA’s plan to reassess its approach to opioid medicines, which will focus on reversing the epidemic while providing patients who need it with access to pain relief.

The FDA is also requiring several additional safety labelling changes across all prescription opioid products to include additional information on the risk of these medications.

“Opioid addiction and overdose have reached epidemic levels over the past decade, and the FDA remains steadfast in our commitment to do our part to help reverse the devastating impact of the misuse and abuse of prescription opioids,” says FDA commissioner Robert Califf.

“Today’s actions are one of the largest undertakings for informing prescribers of risks across opioid products, and one of many steps the FDA intends to take this year as part of our comprehensive action plan to reverse this epidemic.”

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