The new face of drug addiction
May 24th, 2011
03:54 PM ET
3 years ago

The new face of drug addiction

Washington (CNN) - The face of drug addiction has changed, and the government is working to adapt.

The 21st-century drug addict is more likely to get a fix from a medicine cabinet than from a needle. More than 5 million Americans misused prescription painkillers in a one-month period in 2009, according to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health from that year.

And a huge majority - more than 70% - of those prescription-drug abusers said they got the drugs from friends and relatives.

"We believe there are two unique reasons for the growth in prescription drug abuse - easy accessibility to the drugs and the diminished perception of risk," Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee Tuesday.

Kerlikowske joined a slate of witnesses to describe the skyrocketing addiction statistics and a host of federal and state initiatives designed to stem the tide – several of which are still in the planning stages.

A White House plan released last month to confront prescription drug abuse emphasizes spreading public awareness of the problem by mandatory education of physicians who prescribe painkillers and also for people who receive the prescriptions.

"In many cases, prescription drugs remain in household medicine cabinets well after medication therapy has been completed, thus providing easy access to non-medical users for abuse, accidental ingestion or illegal distribution for profit," said Michele Leonhart, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Officials are crafting regulations to carry out a law Congress passed last year that will allow states to enable pharmacies to accept people's unused prescription drugs for disposal. In the meantime the DEA has organized two national prescription drug take-back days to collect unused or expired medications. On the most recent take-back day, Americans turned in 188 tons of unused or expired drugs at sites across the country for disposal.

Another measure awaiting a DEA final rule would allow electronic tracking of prescriptions, partly in the hopes of preventing forgeries and "doctor shopping," when an addict receives multiple prescriptions from different physicians.

Leonhart said she hoped both measures would be operational by the end of this year.

But Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, complained at the slow pace of reforms and asked panel members to pull any strings they could.

"It has been astounding to me as a newly-elected senator to see the pace at which federal rulemaking slogs forward," he said. "I've become - I don't know what you call it but - impatient, I guess, with the pace of federal rulemaking, and you may be in the position to expedite it a bit."

Another witness underlined the urgency.

"Daily, 50 people in our nation die from unintentional prescription opioid overdoses and, daily, 20 times that number are admitted to hospital emergency departments for opioid overdoses," said John Eadie, director of the Prescription Monitoring Program Center of Excellence at Brandeis University.


Filed under: Senate
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. NVa Native

    Now this is how corporate / GOP love it. Americans addicted to some thing manufactured cheaply and with little govt oversight (FDA was castrated by Bush/Cheney regime), no I'm not talking about fox tv but that is cheap.
    Now if they can just figure out a way to move the chemical company from NJ to communist China they'd be in heaven.

    May 24, 2011 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  2. Landogarner

    Yet somehow people still think Marijuana is worse than prescription drugs or alcohol and prescription drug addicts are more acceptable.... What a nation of ignorant hypocrites we've become.

    May 24, 2011 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  3. lloyd roberts

    But marijuana is illegal and millions are locked up and doing hard time in the land of the free for using and possessing it. Something is out of balance here and always has been when you let corporates make the drug policy that willing senators and representatives with their hands out will obediently legislate.

    May 24, 2011 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  4. To promote the general welfare and ensure national security, I, Barak Hussein Obama, do hereby mandate that...

    starting July 1st, the federal government to be randomly selecting Americans and coming to your home to collect urine samples to ensure you are not taking illegal drugs. I have issued an Executive Order declaring all urine in the US to be government property. Anybody who refuses will be jailed and samples forceably collected. I thank you in advance for this small sacrifice of your liberty to ensure we catch all the drig abusers amongst us.

    May 24, 2011 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  5. Sniffit

    Right where Big Pharma wants you.

    May 24, 2011 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  6. Rudy NYC

    Officials are crafting regulations to carry out a law Congress passed last year that will allow states to enable pharmacies to accept people's unused prescription drugs for disposal.
    ---------------------------
    Some states have already begun this practice. I know of areas in New York that accept medications, no questions asked. Most of the TV ads focus on encouraging people to take an inventory and get rid of the old stuff in their medicine cabinets. They say that some of the old stuff can become toxic once the expiration date has passed.

    May 24, 2011 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  7. apib

    there is a real need for these medications for some, it is the addicts that make honest people suffer

    May 24, 2011 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  8. To promote the general welfare and ensure national security, I, Barak Hussein Obama, do hereby mandate that...

    During the mandatory random drug testing, anybody exhibiting excessive wealth and comfort is subject to the immediate confiscation of that excessiveness. it shall be immediately removed and redistributed to others more in need, like my poor supporters. We must level the playing field. We must all be equal in outcome, but not in output. Anybody who resists will be sent to a re-education camp in San Francisco.

    May 24, 2011 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  9. Sniffit

    "What a nation of ignorant hypocrites we've become"

    You spelled "jack-sses" wrong.

    May 24, 2011 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  10. Lancer

    But the government doesn't care about this. Their bosses in the pharmaceutical industry are making billions. Their perks keep coming and they will always bow to pharmaceutical lobbiest. It's those evil pot smokers that's the problem. Just like they try to continuously discredit the dietary supplement industry because they perceive them as a threat to the vast fortunes of their pharmaceutical friends. Its a great cycle. Have commercial agriculture give the people poisened food. Make them sick to boost the profits of the pharmaceutical industry. The medical insurance masters make fortunes, and as soon as insurance runs out patients soon die, hopefully before 66 so social security and medicare payments are minimized.

    May 24, 2011 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  11. michaelam

    Prescription drug abuse is nothing new, just ask Rush Limbaugh!

    May 24, 2011 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  12. John K.

    NVa Native

    "Now this is how corporate / GOP love it. Americans addicted to some thing manufactured cheaply and with little govt oversight (FDA was castrated by Bush/Cheney regime), no I'm not talking about fox tv but that is cheap.
    Now if they can just figure out a way to move the chemical company from NJ to communist China they'd be in heaven."
    May 24, 2011 04:05 pm

    I think you must have been high on something when you wrote this.

    May 24, 2011 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |