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Senate Hearing Looks at Causes, Solutions for Prescription Drug Abuse

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The skyrocketing growth in the number of Americans addicted to prescription drugs is due to easy accessibility and the diminished perception of risk, the Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy told a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday.

Gil Kerlikowske was among the witnesses who spoke at the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing about the problem and the many federal and state programs aimed at curbing prescription drug abuse, CNN reports. Michele Leonhart, Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), told the subcommittee that prescription drugs often remain in medicine cabinets long after a person has stopped taking the drugs, which can lead to abuse, accidental ingestion or illegal distribution of the drugs.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that in 2009, more than 5 million Americans misused prescription pain medicine. More than 70 percent of people who abuse prescription drugs say they got them from friends and relatives, according to the article.

Last month, the White House released a plan that aims to cut the use of prescription painkillers by 15 percent in five years. The plan includes doctor training, promoting prescription database in all states and increased focus on rooting out illegal “pill mill” clinics.

The DEA has organized two national prescription drug take-back days, to collect medications that are unused or expired. The most recent take-back day collected 188 tons of drugs around the country. CNN reports that one measure awaiting a final ruling from DEA would allow electronic tracking of prescriptions. The measure is designed to prevent prescription forgeries and “doctor shopping” to collect multiple prescriptions for painkillers.

8 Responses to this article

  1. meltee / May 30, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    The proposed interventions may make a small difference, but as long as the US mindset if drug friendly, the best they can do is to cause some potential users to switch from script drugs to street drugs. Our culture is drug friendly, ads tout drugs as the answer just about every problem you might have. Ameicans hate discomfort, and popping a pill is seen as the quick fix. Educating docs won’t change that cultural mindset.

  2. Avatar of Kim Walker
    Kim Walker / May 28, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    I am a counselor at a methadone/suboxone clinic. I have also been living a 12-step way of life since 2/5/87 and I must share that 98% of our patient’s ended up at our clinic in the following manner: 1) they suffered an injury or had a surgical procedure in which a doc gave them a legitimate Rx for pain; 2) when they went back to the doc, thier dose was increased or another opiod-based Rx was provided; 3) when these folks told their doc they were concerned,or if the doc noticed they may be dependent, the doc cut them off; 4) they ended up at the ER only to be flagged as med seekers; 5) they turned to illegal means to get thier “pain” meds; 6) they then learned to snort and/or stepped up to injecting; 7) IF they didn’t die, they sought help only to be turned away because the waiting lists are so long…VERY SAD!

  3. Avatar of Gregory Teas MD
    Gregory Teas MD / May 28, 2011 at 10:49 am

    As an addictionologist I can attest to the epidemic that we face and the complexities involved in finding workable solutions. Most physicians are well meaning but uninformed about identifying substance use disorders. Epidemiological data suggests that 5- 20 % of all Americans are at risk for various degrees of substance use disorders. Treating pain aggressively will result in a significant minority of patients triggering their reward systems and engaging in problematic behaviors that exploit the doctor-patient relationship and many other risky behaviors downstream. Physicians should limit their involvement in pain management to short term interventions with opioid agents and rapidly transition patients with chronic, non-malignant pain to specialized, medically oriented providers who should use agents such as buprenorphine for tapering procedures (not interventionists who are motivated by our current system to perform expensive procedures). High volume prescribers should be scrutinized by the DEA and obvious drug mills run by sociopathic businessmen and physicians should be closed and owners prosecuted. Treating opioid dependency is a very difficult process with hugh costs and frustrations by all parties. Prevention is a much better strategy and must be part of any rational solution.

  4. Avatar of John
    John / May 26, 2011 at 11:43 am

    I believe that leaving old medicine around is a problem, but let’s be honest with ourselves. The cause for the prescription drug abuse is much more than that. Now that we have this problem in our country, it will require us to fight a war like never before.

    Let’s start with the doctors. If they are not knowledgeable enough about the dangers of prescription medicines and keep writing the scripts which ultimately contribute to a person becoming an addict, then they should lose their license to practice. Honestly what is the difference between the drug dealers in the street or a doctor who is knowingly writes an unwarranted script? There is no difference in the eyes of an addict.

    I also support attacking illegal and legal pill mills. For example, we must develop a system that improves how medicine is provided over the internet. Right now an adolescent can get drugs with a credit card. If medicine is purchased over the internet then it should be sent to the patient’s local doctor for dispersal. Currently we have family doctors who are the “gate keepers” for insurance companies; I would think they should be gate keepers for prescription medicine when a local pharmacy is not involved.

    People such as family or friends who knowingly distribute their medicine to others are in my mind “dealers” and should be legally accountable for their actions and suffer consequences when they break the law.

    Lastly the addict needs to be accountable and have clear/defined consequences. Addicts need to experience a quicker process to feel the legal ramifications of their actions to “force” them into care. I know that true recovery comes when a person wants it, but we need to be realistic about addiction. There people who are drug addicts that I believe will and can recover if they are initially forced into it. They need that initial period away from drugs to comprehend their situation and understand the option of recovery in a treatment center or going to jail or a detention center. Nothing is guaranteed, but we need to be more aggressive in taking the lives of our kids and young adults back.

    Let’s talk about education. My 2 boys grew up with the DARE program in schools and understanding the dangers of drugs of all types. One made the right choices and the other did not. My son who was mandated to go into treatment is getting the help he needs. It took us 3 years to get him there…why because he did not want or think he needed help. During the last 3 years, we forced certain situations to occur that caused it to go legal. We worked with the “System” that had him in and out of counseling, intensive outpatient and finally inpatient treatment. Most of the time the probation and court system and the insurance companies had more control then us. After the first counseling period of 6 months, we knew the best option for our son was inpatient treatment; his situation was getting worse ands he was getting better at lying, manipulation and being defiant to us. My wife and I knew counseling was not working and he need inpatient care…why because he was our son since he was born and we saw first hand how quickly the drugs took over his life. Just before he ended up in inpatient treatment, I reached out to his counselor for help. She told me “that there was nothing I could do (because he did not want help or felt he had a problem) and unfortunately it takes a bad event to make things happen next.” Well my son was finally arrested after my wife and I helped the legal system (which by the way is a sizable expense on its own). What is ironic is that he was arrested for numerous things, but none of which were drugs or abusing drugs. There should be some law that gives parents an option to have their kid admitted into a program willingly or unwillingly because of drug use. The ability to make this happen should be swift and the program focused on the stage of the addict, an adolescent should not have the option to decide. Also, all this occurred even though we were not seeking public assistance to pay for my son’s treatment. We are a middle class family and did not ask for assistance or want it, all we wanted was to do what we thought was best.

    To me this proves that we are not aggressive enough and commitment to a real war on drugs. It is not a question or issue of privacy or dedicating more funds for education, etc. Let’s start with having a real war on drugs that establishes a true “Zero Tolerance” to anyone that contributes to breaking the law. What we need is simple;

    1.Allow parents to have all the control of there kids drug problem, not the insurance companies, not the legal system and not the kids themselves. If the parents cannot manage this then they are not parents in my mind.
    2.Drive accountability with doctors, “pill mills”, family and friends who are the same as street dealers when they contribute to this epidemic.
    3.Make the consequences clear and firm to everyone who chooses to break the law.
    4.We have to understand that there is no safe drug when used inappropriately. There should not be any discussion of legalizing pot, it is a starter drug that I saw first hand cause damage to my son’s brain and contribute to his addition. We need to not compromise our values and jeopardize the souls of our kids because of a few who want to smoke pot for recreation. If you want to smoke leave this country please.
    5.Lastly, when an addict decides not to respond to treatment, work hard to recover, positively address a relapse and continues their self destructive behavior, then he/she should be either in jail or detention. Drug use is illegal and causes people to break other laws. An addict who continues to make bad choices may eventually die, but until then they are a danger to society, not just themselves. That may sound coarse, but the drug of choice used by an addict does not care about a person. We have to fight this epidemic on our terms or we will lose the souls of our kids and future generations.

  5. Ben House / May 26, 2011 at 1:26 am

    Wouldn’t it be nice if they spent the money setting up a return program so that unexpired medications could be provided to those who cannot afford them at reduced rates through legitimate pharmacies.

  6. Michael W Shore, M.D. / May 25, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    A powerful tool currently exists to combat and treat perhaps the most significant drug abuse problem – opiate dependence. The medication Suboxone is extremely helpful, but continues to be restricted by government regulations. Thus, many physicians, myself included, must turn away dozens of patients because we are at our federally mandated “limit”. Funny how there is no limit on the number of patients docs can treat and prescribe oxycontin, percocet and other “legal” opiates!!!! We MUST eliminate this limit on treatment. NOW!! Dr. Shore

  7. Jeff / May 25, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    Oh yes, here we go. More tracking, less patient privacy, more governmental control. We all know how successful the government’s “war” on drugs has been. Since most abused prescription drugs are obtained from sources where the drug was legitimately obtained (friends or family who have/had a valid prescription, etc) how exactly will this help? Answer, it won’t. Education, appropriate dosage and amount prescribing, coupled with adequate treatment options and funding, etc., are common sense ways to address the problem. Not sacrificing more privacy and denying legitimate patients with legitimate pain access to legitimate drugs. With all the money being poured into new strategies one wonders where all this money hides when dollars for treatment are needed? When the government has new tracking and violation against person strategies, suddenly there’s all kinds of money available.

  8. Kim Walker / May 28, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    I’m with you! Where and how can we do this? By the time most of our patient’s get to me, they’ve already lost their legitimate incomes and are covered under Medicaid or (Badger Care, Wisconsin) and Medicaid won’t pay for Suboxone and some of our people have been on Methadone for years. We also have maximum case loads of fifty patient’s each…Not very therapuetic!

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