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The White House
For Immediate Release

New Data Reveal 400% Increase in Substance Abuse Treatment Admissions for People Abusing Prescription Drugs

WASHINGTON – Today, Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and Thomas McLellan, Deputy Director of ONDCP, joined Peter Delany, Director of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Office of Applied Studies, and Michele M. Leonhart, Acting Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), to release a new study showing a 400 percent increase in substance abuse treatment admissions for prescription pain relievers. Governor Jack Markell of Delaware and Chris Kennedy Lawford were also in attendance.

The study, Substance Abuse Treatment Admissions Involving Abuse of Pain Relievers: 1998-2008, conducted by the SAMHSA, and based on the agency’s Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) reveals a 400 percent increase between 1998 and 2008 of substance abuse treatment admissions for those aged 12 and over reporting abuse of prescription pain relievers. The increase in the percentage of admissions abusing pain relievers spans every age, gender, race, ethnicity, education, employment level, and region. The study also shows a more than tripling of pain reliever abuse among patients who needed treatment for opioid dependence.

“The TEDS data released today highlights how serious a threat to public health we face from the abuse of prescription drugs”, said Gil Kerlikowske, National Drug Policy Director. “The spikes in prescription drug abuse rates captured by this study are dramatic, pervasive, and deeply disturbing.”

“The non-medical use of prescription pain relievers is now the second-most prevalent form of illicit drug use in the Nation, and its tragic consequences are seen in substance abuse treatment centers and hospital emergency departments throughout our Nation” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D. “This public health threat demands that we follow the President’s National Drug Control Strategy’s call for an all-out effort to raise awareness of this risk and the critical importance of properly using, storing, and disposing of these powerful drugs.”

“The data released today is alarming and shows the tremendous damage being caused by prescription drug abuse all across this country each and every day,” said DEA Acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. “The effective enforcement of laws regulating the distribution of controlled substances, coupled with their lawful disposal are essential parts of a comprehensive strategy to reduce drug abuse. DEA is committed to being part of the solution, however it will take all of us working together to prevent the tragedies that inevitably come with drug abuse.”

“This rise in prescription drug abuse is no surprise to the doctors and law enforcement professionals who see its effects in our communities,” said Governor Markell. “We have been focused on making sure that health care professionals have the best tools available to detect and prevent this kind of abuse before it ruins lives.

Delaware’s new legislation to authorize a prescription monitoring program is one of those tools and an important component of the President’s National Drug Control Strategy.”

“Our national prescription drug abuse problem cannot be ignored. I have worked in the treatment field for the last 35 years, and recent trends regarding the extent of prescription drug abuse are startling,” said A. Thomas McLellan, Deputy Director of ONDCP. “We must work with prescribers, the pharmaceutical industry, law enforcement, and families to help us fight this scourge.”

The National Drug Control Strategy, released in May, outlines several steps to address what Director Kerlikowske calls “the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States”—prescription drug abuse.

They include:

  • Increasing prescription drug return, take-back, and disposal programs. Prescription drugs that are commonly abused are often found in the family medicine cabinet, and individuals should get rid of unused or expired prescription drugs to prevent diversion and abuse.
  • Educating physicians about opiate painkiller prescribing. The Administration’s FY 2011 Budget request proposes funding for a program to train prescribers on how to instruct patients in the use and proper disposal of painkillers, to observe signs of dependence, and to use prescription drug monitoring programs to detect when an individual is going from doctor to doctor in search of prescriptions (also called “doctor shopping”).
  • Expanding prescription drug monitoring programs. Currently, these programs are operating in 34 states. The Administration supports establishment of these programs in every state, and is seeking to ensure new and existing monitoring programs effectively use the data they acquire and share information across state lines.
  • Assisting states in addressing doctor shopping and pill mills. Criminal organizations have established thriving businesses of transporting people to states with little regulation to obtain prescription drugs from multiple doctors or from pill mills, which distribute drugs indiscriminately. Federal, state, local, and tribal authorities are working together to address this problem.
  • Driving illegal Internet pharmacies out of business.
  • Cracking down on rogue pain clinics that do not follow appropriate prescription practices.

The National Drug Control Strategy provides a blueprint for reducing prescription drug abuse. Parents, law enforcement, the medical community, and all levels of government have a role to play in reducing prescription drug abuse.

Later today, Director Kerlikowske will travel to Delaware to attend Governor Markell’s bill signing for the Delaware Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.