What to Know

Here’s a shout-out to IHS Pharmacy

IHS Pharmacy and Gifts in Metter — GPhA and AIP member! — was named Business of the Year by the Metter-Candler Chamber of Commerce.

Congrats to Krista and Dean Stone and their staff!

Piedmont to take over some Walgreens clinics

Piedmont Healthcare, which runs seven hospitals in Atlanta, will be taking over 27 in-store Walgreens clinics in the Atlanta metro area.

We can’t neglect the biggest science news of the week

Whenever NASA says, “We have an important announcement,” everyone thinks “Aliens!” It never is. Still, seven Earth-like planets around a nearby star is still pretty cool.

If you have $130 billion lying around…

…you might be interested in buying Bristol-Myers. Then again so, apparently, is everyone else.

Pharmacy/FDA news

No matter what side of the debate you’re on, this is still a notable story for pharmacists.

China allows more drugs

In a huge boon for drug makers, China has added 133 Western drugs to the list of what will be covered by the national insurance program. The huge volume means drugmakers will be selling at a discount, but somehow I think they’ll be OK with that.

Stick to the needles

Nope, they still don’t know why FluMist doesn’t work.

—Andrew Kantor • Feb. 23, 2017


Needle exchange bill passes house panel

A bill sponsored by state representative (and physician) Betty Price would allow the DPH to supervise needle-exchange programs run by “harm reduction organizations,” which would give an opportunity to get them (the drug users, that is) education and access to drug abuse programs.

The bill (HB 161) passed the House Health Committee and now goes to the House Rules Committee.

STOP THE PRESSES: Congress agrees on something

Vaccines work and save lives. The leaders (majority and minority) of both houses of Congress wrote a letter to their colleagues.

“The science is clear: FDA-licensed vaccines are proven to be safe and effective, and save the lives both of those who receive them and vulnerable individuals around them. As Members of Congress, we have a critical role to play in supporting the availability and use of vaccines to protect Americans from deadly diseases.”

Coming soon: igloos in Hell.

What do you do when your sales are falling?

You advocate being tested for a condition that your blockbuster drug happens to cure, of course.

Watch Gilead’s commercial right here.

We want you for the GPhA board

Don’t forget — if you want to help lead the Georgia Pharmacy Association, now’s the time to apply for a leadership position. Just head over to GPhA.org/board2017 for info and to apply.

Read this quickly

Life expectancy is projected to rise in most modern industrialized countries, but one country won’t see it rise nearly as fast. Can you guess which one? Yep — and U.S. life expectancy is already lower than the rest of the First World.

Naloxone works

It saves lives.

Using data from the National Vital Statistics System multiple cause-of-death mortality files for the period 1999-2014, we find that the adoption of a NAL [naloxone access law] is associated with a 9 to 11 percent reduction in opioid-related deaths.

Aren’t they special

Wondering which were the top 15 specialty pharmacies in the country in 2016? Of course you were. Lucky for you, Drug Channels has the answer.

—Andrew Kantor • Feb. 23, 2017


Legislative update: Week 5

A busy week, but not an eventful one — the calm before the storm, perhaps. Our Pharmacy Patient Fair Practices Act is still moving along, and the DCH recoupment bill we support is enjoying some broad support.

Add some bills about antibiotics to sexual partners and limiting opioid prescriptions, and you have an interesting update. Check the details at GPhA.org/legislativeupdates.

Senate passes cannabis oil bill

A bill has passed the state senate that would (1) add autism to the list of qualifying conditions for a licence to possess cannabis oil, and (2) lower the allowed potency of the oil from five percent to three percent.

It’s still against state law to sell or purchase the oil in Georgia, however.

Soon to be Lifetime Original Movie

Anthem and Cigna trade accusations over breakup.

Smoke ’em if you got ’em*

It appears that smoking can prevent anemia — and, ironically, carbon monoxide poisoning.

“He may never be an athlete because his blood can’t carry as much oxygen, but smoking has prevented him from being anemic. And there’s a side benefit. People with this trait are more resistant to carbon monoxide poisoning.”

* No, don’t.

Diabetes: Worse than you thought

A new study in PLOS One found that almost 12 percent of deaths in the U.S. can be blamed on diabetes. That’s a lot higher than death certificates would suggest (3.3 to 3.7 percent) because the official cause of death is often a side effect of diabetes: heart disease, renal disease, visual impairment, peripheral arterial disease, etc.

Here’s something you probably didn’t expect

Legalizing same-sex marriage has resulted in a “significant reduction” in the rate of teen suicide according to a study out of Johns Hopkins.

“There may be something about having equal rights – even if they have no immediate plans to take advantage of them – that makes students feel less stigmatized and more hopeful for the future.”

Lemur thieves, beware

Facial-recognition software is coming for you… and your monkey.

Bill would ease e-cig restrictions

A bill introduced by Georgia Representative Sanford Bishop (and Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole) would essentially roll back the FDA’s authority to regulate electronic cigarettes. It would remove the requirement that e-cigs meet health standards, and allow them to be marketed and sold to minors (although state laws might prohibit that).

According to Bishop: “Vapor products offer a promising path for harm reduction for those seeking to quit or limit their smoking. This legislation would ensure the FDA’s regulatory process does not limit the availability of safer tobacco options for those seeking to make use of them.”

Your heart is in your hands….


—Andrew Kantor • Feb. 20, 2017


Let’s all clap for Georgia

According to the CDC, STDs are at an all-time high in the U.S. And guess which state ranks number 7 for highest incidence of them? C’mon, guess.

USP supports pharmacist provider status

The CEO of USP (you know, the US Pharmacopeial Convention — the folks who verify the quality of supplements) has come out in favor of the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act, aka provider status.

Pharmacists have been valued partners in USP’s work since we created our first medication quality standards nearly 200 years ago. The pharmacy profession has evolved tremendously since then and pharmacists today are highly trained healthcare professionals with extensive specialized education and training.

Potential “game changer” in the fight against opioid abuse

China is banning one of the most potent opioids, carfentanil. Last time the country banned a drug, it practically disappeared from the U.S. market.

—Andrew Kantor • Feb. 17, 2017


Senators to Price: Allow importing drugs from Canada

Three U.S. senators have asked Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price to use his authority to allow “fast-track” importation of drugs from Canada.

Humana to pull out of exchanges

Humana has said it will not sell insurance in state marketplaces in 2018 — the first major insurer to make the announcement, although Humanas “is not a major player in the individual exchanges.”

Congress never paid health insurers the money they were promised under Obamacare, causing many of them to pull out of the marketplaces in 2016 and 2017.

Aetna, Humana call it quits

The companies have officially called off their $34 billion merger, after a judge ruled it would violate anti-trust laws. Aetna will return the engagement ring pay Humana a $1 billion breakup fee.

Anthem, Cigna call it quits

The companies have officially called off their planned $54 billion merger, but it’s not an amicable break-up. Cigna is demanding $14.8 billion from Anthem: $1.85 billion for the breakup itself, and $13 billion in damages. Anthem shot back with claims that Cigna sabotaged the merger. Get your popcorn.

NCPA endorses anti-DIR bill

Our friends at the National Community Pharmacists Association announced their support for a bill “that prohibits pharmacy direct and indirect remuneration (DIR) fees from being applied after the point-of-sale for prescription drugs dispensed to Medicare beneficiaries.”

Three Georgia representatives — Buddy Carter, Doug Collins, and Drew Ferguson — are co-sponsoring the bill. (An earlier version of this story inadvertently left out Rep. Ferguson.)

Read all about HR 1038.

Does MiraLax turn kids emo?

MiraLax isn’t supposed to be given to anyone under 17. Parents in Philly are claiming that, when they gave it to their under-17 children, it turned them “angry and dark.

Wondering who has legal access to your prescription records?

We asked Rick Allen, director of the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency. His reply was simple: “DEA has access, GDNA has access, but [other] law enforcement does not without a subpoena or search warrant.”

Gluten-free diets have some risky downsides

For people who don’t have celiac disease but put themselves on a gluten-free diet because they read on the Internet that it’s good… well, maybe not, according to a new study.

The researchers found that levels of [arsenic and mercury] were much higher among subjects who followed a gluten-free diet than those who did not eat gluten-free products; mercury levels were 70 percent higher in the blood of gluten-free subjects, while arsenic levels in urine were almost twice as high.

Good news, though: Both arsenic and mercury are all-natural!

Illinois considers limiting pharmacists’ hours, requiring techs

After the Chicago Tribune found all those medical errors committed up there, the Illinois House of Representatives is considering a bill that “would limit both the number of hours pharmacists could work in a day and the number of prescriptions pharmacies could fill in an hour.” It would also require a technician be present — at least 10 tech-hours per 100 prescriptions filled.

Our friends at the Illinois Pharmacists Association are opposing the bill.

Drugs aren’t the right option for most lower-back pain

The American College of Physicians says that exercise is as good or better for lower back pain than meds, and that meds are more a last-line treatment than a first-line one.

HHS to implement rule to protect health insurers

Tom Price, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said HHS will be implementing a planned Obama administration rule that would help insurance companies by making it harder for healthy people to sign up for coverage only when they get sick.

[T]he regulation makes it harder for patients to sign up outside of annual open enrollment periods and would allow insurers to collect past-due premiums before starting coverage for a new year. It would also shorten the annual enrollment period by half, from three months to 45 days, ending right between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And it would give insurers more flexibility in the types of plans they offer and return regulation of the size and adequacy of health care provider networks to the states.

—Andrew Kantor • Feb. 16, 2017


DCH recoupment bill takes its next step

Big, good news: HB 206, which would prohibit DCH recoupment for corrected clerical errors, passed out of the Georgia House Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday. This bill is one of our legislative priorities for the year, so this is great news.

Georgia remains in the lowest tier for health insurance

The latest information from the CDC confirms that Georgia is one of six states with uninsured rates significantly higher than the national average — more than one in eight Georgians (13.3 percent) don’t have any health insurance.

Families valued

States that expanded Medicaid apparently had a lower rate of divorce (among 50-64 year olds) than those that didn’t. Why? “Medical divorce” — where the family breaks up in order to qualify for Medicaid and be able to pay medical expenses.

Draining the couple’s assets so that the sick individual could qualify for Medicaid would leave no resources for the retirement of the other member; thus divorce and separating assets was often the only option.

The other GPhA changes its name

The Generic Pharmaceutical Association is now (drumroll, please) the Association for Accessible Medicines. Please make a note of it. You’ll find it at accessiblemeds.org.

—Andrew Kantor • Feb. 15, 2017


Legislative update: week 4

Lots of meat in this update, including the status of our Pharmacy Patient Fair Practices Act and the DCH recoupment bill. Greg also gives the details of SB 81, which covers use of Georgia’s PDMP by prescribers and pharmacists.

Click here for the full week-four update.

Georgia cities rank high, and low, for healthiness

Of 150 metro areas in the U.S., Atlanta is among the healthiest (#21), while Augusta and Columbus are among the least healthy (#141 and #126, respectively).

That’s according to a new report from WalletHub (which is pretty good at these kinds of rankings) — it takes into account a list of factors, including cost and availability of healthcare, availability and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, amount and use of fitness facilities, and even parks and biking.

(San Francisco and Salt Lake top the list, in case you’re wondering, while Detroit and Brownsville, Texas, are at the bottom.)

Older folks are getting lots of psych drugs

They may not even have a diagnosed mental illness, and they’re a lot more susceptible to side effects.

The number of retirement-age Americans taking at least three psychiatric drugs more than doubled between 2004 and 2013, even though almost half of them had no mental health diagnosis on record.

An orphan’s tale

It’s an older drug, deflazacort is, and it’s available overseas for about $100 a month. But now Marathon Pharmaceuticals is bringing it to the U.S., calling it an “orphan drug” for treating Duchenne muscular dystrophy (getting it a “priority review” voucher from the government that it can sell for a few hundred million bucks), and raising the list price to $89,000 per year.

The company, after all, had to pay an undisclosed amount for “editorial assistance” to have the drug’s 1995 study used for its 2016 approval.

But don’t worry — Marathon says patients will pay very little. Insurers and taxpayers will pick up the cost.


—Andrew Kantor • Feb. 14, 2017


‘Five-day refill’ bill amended — now would affect only opioids

A proposed Georgia bill aimed at reducing opioid abuse would also have required people taking any controlled drugs — including those for ADHD — to refill them every five days. After much controversy, that portion of the bill (SB 81) was changed so it only affects “benzodiazepines, opiates, opioids, opioid analgesics, or opioid derivatives to an adult patient for the first time.”

More fingers for PBMs

Bloomberg: “Big Pharma Is Pointing Fingers, and Hoping Trump Will Listen.” More major drug companies are accusing PBMs of being the main cause of high drug prices.

Georgia’s Doug Collins looks to regulate PBMs

The Republican congressman is planning to introduce (well, reintroduce) legislation to require “greater transparency of the rebates, fees and costs tied to pharmacy benefit managers,” according to this story.

The empires strike back

But PBMs aren’t taking all this abuse lying down.

The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association plans to target “key leaders” in the Trump administration and “build a political firewall” around Capitol in an urgent bid to avoid unfavorable legislation.

Experts to Trump: Vaccines work

More than 350 organizations, including leading U.S. medical, advocacy and professional organizations, have sent a letter to President Trump expressing their ‘unequivocal support for the safety of vaccines‘.”

Tax break for pharma? We tried that once

The idea: give pharmaceutical companies a tax break if they “repatriate” cash they have overseas, so they’ll use the money to create new jobs. Reality: Last time we did this, they cut jobs and raised CEO pay.

In the end, the 2004 tax holiday cost the US government $3.3 billion in lost revenue and did nothing to increase employment or investment in research, according to a Senate report.

—Andrew Kantor • Feb. 13, 2017


Major news: Board of Pharmacy defines “direct supervision”

Georgia pharmacists are now allowed to leave the prescription area for up to five minutes at a time in order to assist patients (as long as they remain available to other staff).

Check your e-mail for the full announcement, or click here.

And MORE major news: Pharmacy Patient Fair Practices Act introduced in house

Representative David Knight has introduced the Pharmacy Patient Fair Practices Act (HB 276) — this is the companion bill (and is identical to) SB 103, which was introduced last week by Senator Mullis.

And get this: HB 276 has already received 50 cosponsors (we’ll provide the names shortly). Both bills are expected to go the insurance committee in their respective chambers.

The support for these bills has been tremendous. That is, in large part, because of you. Your phone calls, e-mails, and faxes advocating for the bill have directly resulted in legislators supporting and signing on to these bills.

Please continue to reach out to your legislators and let them know how important these bills are for Georgia patients.

Judge blocks Anthem/Cigna merger

A U.S. District Court Judge blocked the $48 billion purchase by Anthem of Cigna (which would have created the nation’s largest health insurer). Cigna is reportedly back on the hunt for deal — just a smaller one.

Common antibiotic advice might be wrongCould the advice to finish all your antibiotics be wrong? Turns out it might help superbugs.

Could statins prevent Alzheimer’s?

Some evidence says the drugs — common and inexpensive — could slow or stop the disease. But who wants to pay to test them?

—Andrew Kantor • Feb. 10, 2017


Replacing meds lost in the storm

A collaboration between the United Way of Southwest Georgia, Albany Area Primary Health Care, and U-Save-It Pharmacy is helping replace medications lost by victims of last month’s storms.

PBMs “extremely worried” about what’s coming down the pike

The trade association for PBMs — the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association — is “extremely worried about President Trump’s plans” according to a Buzz Feed News article.

It’s planning to move aggressively “given the political uncertainty, headline risk, and other unique challenges that come with a President more inclined toward quick, instinctive action than the traditional, deliberative decision-making process,” according to a leaked internal memo.

Speaking of PBMs…

They aren’t responsible for high drug prices, according to Tim Wentworth, CEO of Express Scripts.

Something for your desktop

If you have $4,900 to spare, you can bid on the mold that Alexander Fleming used to discover penicillin.

The downside to high deductibles

High-deductible insurance plans give consumers more skin in the game, encouraging them to save money on healthcare. The downside is that they don’t always make the right choices.

“The question researchers still are weighing, though, is what consumers slice off. Do they stop filling name-brand prescriptions when equally effective generics are available? Or do they avoid critical care […] staying home instead of heading to the hospital?”

Words for the wise

Merriam-Webster just added a slew of new words to the language its dictionary, including “CRISPR,” “EpiPen,” “microbiome,” and “urgent care.” (And for us photo geeks, “bokeh.”)

Trump still supports Medicare price negotiations

The Trump administration remains committed to allowing Medicare to negotiate prices with drug companies.

Study: US patients struggle to pay for care

A study of people from 11 first-world countries found that Americans are more likely to skip needed health care because of cost.

One-third (33%) of U.S. adults went without recommended care, did not see a doctor when sick, or failed to fill a prescription because of costs. This percentage is down from the 2013 survey (37%). As few as 7 percent of respondents in the U.K. and Germany and 8 percent in the Netherlands and Sweden experienced these affordability problems.

Walgreens-Rite Aid update

Fred’s is getting additional funding so it can purchase more than the 865 Rite-Aid stores it’s already agreed to buy.

—Andrew Kantor • Feb. 08, 2017