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In early March 2008, President George Bush gave a brief account of our country's pharmaceutical diversion problems, during his weekly radio address to the nation. This is the first time in my recollection that a sitting US president, or any president, directly addressed this issue in this depth.
His message first dealt with the growing problem of teen prescription drug abuse. He said that 2 million of our youth currently abuse pharmaceuticals and that approximately 2500 of them have their first illegal use of the drugs every day. He went on to state that prescription drugs are the top substance of abuse listed by 12- and 13-year-olds in this country.
These staggering numbers of youth prescription drug abuse have been borne out in other studies recently, causing the drug prevention group Drug Abuse Resistance Education to launch an entire segment of its education on pharmaceutical diversion by teenagers. Other prevention groups, such as the Coalition for a Drug-Free America, also have shifted some of their emphasis to educating Americans on the potential problems with pharmaceuticals, especially painkillers.
President Bush went on to talk to the parents and others who have outdated and/or unused prescription drugs in their home medicine cabinet about the need to properly destroy them to alleviate the temptation of youths who may use them recreationally. He urged parents to talk to their kids about prescription drug abuse, because a misconception exists that these drugs are not as dangerous as other street drugs when abused.
President Bush also zeroed in on illegal Internet pharmacies and quoted another statistic that may give some credence to those of us who have said for some time that these illegal sources are huge suppliers of illegal prescription substances. In 2006, just 34 known or suspected rogue Internet pharmacies distributed >98 million dosage units of hydrocodone. The diversion of 98 million dosage units of the most highly abused pharmaceutical drug should be a telltale sign of where major law enforcement resources should be centered. Bush went on to say that this quantity of hydrocodone would supply an average of 410,000 patients for a month, and it would take the entire annual sales of 1118 pharmacies to equal the dosage units of hydrocodone that are being sold by these 34 illegal Internet pharmacies!
These kinds of figures prompted the president to urge the swift passage of legislation (the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act) that is currently in the Senate that would address these illegal Internet pharmacy operations. It would make it necessary for a patient to be under a legitimate physician's care before receiving these kinds of prescriptions. What a novel idea! The hard part will be to see whether this kind of legislation will actually curb this multi-billion-dollar illegal industry.
As I have said in several other columns, taking action against this problem requires wide cooperation among local, state, and federal law enforcement, as well as the application of diplomatic pressure on key countries in the world to assist us in severely reducing this illegal business. I hope that this new legislation at least assists in getting the job done.
I applaud President Bush for addressing the ongoing serious problem of prescription drug abuse. This is just one more step in educating the public on the problem, which is one more step hopefully to reducing the devastation of addiction to pharmaceuticals.