Roxicodone shortage frustrates patients and pharmacies

7:55 PM, Mar 4, 2013   |    comments
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More Tennesseans than ever before are using prescription pain medication, but a shortage of one type here in Knoxville means some patients go without the pills they need.

Last year Tennessee pharmacies distributed more than 18 million pain pill prescriptions. That's almost three pills for every man, woman, and child in the state.

Law enforcement agencies are making unprecedented efforts to ensure the pills stay out of the hands of drug addicts.

But some local pharmacies suspect it's having unintended side effects.

10News investigated the story after receiving an email from a viewer who took a prescription for 30 mg Roxicodone (oxycodone hydrochloride) to several pharmacies, but kept getting turned away.

He says he presented a legitimate doctor's note, but says the pharmacies claimed they didn't have enough medicine.

So we turned to Pharmacist Amy Belew of Belew Drug in Knoxville who says that circumstance is an everyday occurrence.

"Patient care is starting to suffer, because we can't get the medication that the patients really need," said Belew.

Not only are patients suffering, but so is business.

"We've had patients for twenty five years, we've seen them have babies," says Belew. "I know of two patients that were taken care of for over twenty five years that we lost to another drug store because we couldn't supply their medication."

The drug store uses Amerisource Bergen, one of the nation's largest drug wholesalers, to supply their 30 mg Roxicodone.

She says their current ordering allowance is enough to fill about four prescriptions a day. But she says she probably sees 20 a day who need it.

Some go home empty handed. Others, says Belew, can get their doctors to alter the amount to less popular dosage or different medication.

She says they safeguard against pill mill prescriptions by fostering close relationships with their patients and only filling orders from reputable doctors.

The pharmacy frequently calls to consult with the doctors office on patient care to further verify the legitimacy of their claims.

"We've never taken care of non-legitimate patients. But because some other people did, now we've got this problem and we can't take care of anyone," said Belew.

She suspects the problem began in February 2012.

That's when the Drug Enforcement Administration suspended a major drug wholesaler's license to distribute controlled substances for two years.

They allege Cardinal Health failed to do enough to keep drugs from falling in to the wrong hands.

According to Reuters, eight months later the DEA. also subpoenaed records from Belew's wholesaler- Amerisource Bergen.

Now Belew suspects companies are being exceedingly cautious with how much of the popular drug they let go to market for fear the same sanction will happen to them.

"They don't really understand how it's affecting patient care," says Belew. "Somebody in an office is making decisions not knowing anything about patients."

10News contact the DEA headquarters for comment. They say they can't speculate about a particular company's business model but acknowledged the crackdown on Cardinal Health could have had a trickle out effect.

"Patients are frustrated. They seem to think that the legitimate patients can't get what they need for their legitimate pain because of all the drug seeking behavior of patients in the area," says Belew.

10News reached out to Amerisource Bergen Monday morning for comment on the situation.

They said they'd get back to us but so far we haven't received any information.

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