A high school homecoming queen and a Hollywood bombshell. A rural sheriff and a college rugby-player. A small-town pharmacist and an expectant mother.
These individuals may not appear to have much in common – but tragically these are all among the thousands of lives fallen prey to the abuse of pain pills around our country. The Centers for Disease Control has described this as a national epidemic, and the statistics don’t lie.
While overdose deaths from prescription opioids have long exceeded deaths from heroin and cocaine combined, alarmingly in 2009, prescription overdoses also overtook motor vehicle crashes as a leading cause of accidental death. As a result of dangerous misconceptions about the recreational use of painkillers, our medicine cabinets have become more dangerous than our cars.
When this problem began to take root in southern and eastern Kentucky, we realized the unique nature of prescription drug abuse would require a multi-pronged solution. At the local level, our Kentucky communities coalesced around an organization called Operation UNITE (Unlawful Narcotics Investigations, Treatment and Education). UNITE has harnessed the energy of health, law enforcement and community leaders in a coordinated fight against pain pill abuse. At the same time, undercover UNITE detectives zero in on drug dealers, and school counselors help start up meaningful alternatives to youth drug use through UNITE clubs and extracurricular activities. Thousands of mothers, daughters, fathers and sons have been given a second lease on life through UNITE’s treatment programs or by participating in a drug court.
People in our region of Kentucky have taken a stand, and the nation is taking note. At the first of its kind National Rx Drug Abuse Summit in Orlando earlier this year, leaders from around the country joined with UNITE to think strategically about the path forward. Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske, federal and local law enforcement, organizations like the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, public health officials, prosecutors and medical researchers all rallied together to share ideas for reducing drug abuse in rural and urban communities alike and mending families ripped apart by this scourge.
For my part, through the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse, I have worked to alert Washington decision-makers to the serious dangers posed by our nation’s fastest growing drug threat. Members of the Caucus collaborate across the political spectrum toward immediate and long-term policy solutions in our battle against prescription drug abuse.
This week, I was particularly proud to speak at the Annual Meeting for the Alliance of States with Prescription Monitoring Programs (ASPMP). Prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) are among the most efficient and cost-effective tools in our arsenal, bridging the gap between legitimate medical need and potential misuse. Since Congress established a grant program at the U.S. Department of Justice in 2002, the number of states with authorized PDMPs has tripled from 15 to 48; however, a secure interstate exchange system to combat so-called “doctor shopping” has lagged.
I was pleased to stand with these trailblazing members of ASPMP as they voted to adopt the PMIX Architecture – a landmark, consensus-based set of technical standards to facilitate interoperability among state-run PDMPs. Soon data exchanges will allow doctors, pharmacists and investigators to sniff out the interstate doctor shopping that has fueled the pill pipeline in our country.
While this marks a huge victory for those of us who have been engaged in this fight for years, our work is far from done. This is an epidemic which crosses socioeconomic and gender lines and which threatens the very fiber of our society. I would encourage you to reach out to your Member of Congress and request that he or she join the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse or cosponsor one of the several measures that seek an end to the abuse of painkillers; only together can we curb this rising tide.
Rogers has served Kentucky’s 5th Congressional District since 1981 and is currently serving as Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. As part of his efforts to fight this growing epidemic, Rogers joined with Representatives Mary Bono Mack (CA-45) and Stephen Lynch in forming the bi-partisan Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse, which aims to raise awareness of abuse and to work toward innovative and effective policy solutions, incorporating treatment, prevention, law enforcement and research.