Federal Government Orders Crackdown on Rx Drug Abuse

Author: Ken Rankin

The Bush administration is enlisting the nation's pharmacists in a coordinated national crackdown on the illegal diversion and abuse of prescription drugs. "Many Americans benefit from the appropriate use of prescription pain killers, but, when abused, they can be as addictive and dangerous as illegal drugs," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said in announcing the campaign. "This new, coordinated federal initiative will help us stop and prevent prescription drug abuse and the harm it can cause."

The crackdown, which will involve representatives from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FDA, and the Surgeon General's office, was launched in response to new data suggesting that prescription drug abuse? particularly abuse of opioid painkillers? has increased at "an alarming rate" over the past 10 years. "Nonmedical use of narcotic pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives ranks second (behind marijuana) as a category of illicit drug abuse among adults and youth," federal officials said. "In 2002, 6.2 million Americans were current abusers of prescription drugs," and "13.7% of youth between the ages of 12 and 17 have abused prescription drugs at least once in their lifetimes." Even more telling is the fact that hospital emergency room visits resulting from abuse of narcotic pain relievers have increased by 163% since 1995.

The new initiative will involve increasing the number of state Prescription Monitoring Programs, which detect suspicious prescriptions and individuals redeeming prescriptions from multiple physicians ("doctor shopping") to identify abusers. In addition, it will use "Web crawler/data mining technology" to identify Internet pharmacy "pill mills" that provide controlled substances illegally.

Federal officials also are planning an outreach program to enlist the assistance of pharmacists, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and businesses involved in Internet commerce.