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The White House
For Immediate Release

Obama Administration Official Urge Immediate Action to Reduce Prescription Drug Diversion, Abuse

White House Drug Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske Highlights Public Health and Safety Challenges of the Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic Before Congressional Caucas on Prescription Drug Abuse

WASHINGTON – Today, Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), called attention to the increasing severity of the Nation’s prescription drug abuse epidemic and outlined the Obama Administration’s plan to prevent and reduce prescription drug abuse during his remarks at the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse. He also commended Representatives Mary Bono Mack (R-45th CA), William Delahunt (D-10th MA), and Hal Rogers (R-5th KY) for their leadership in creating the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse, and called for a concerted Federal response to this important issue.

Last week, Director Kerlikowske joined the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to release the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). The survey reports an estimated 21.8 million Americans (8.7%) aged 12 or older were current (past month) users of illicit drugs in 2009; an increase of 9 percent from 20.1 million in 2008 (8.0%).

Particularly troubling are increases in the non-medical use of prescription drugs. For people 12 and older, the 2009 estimate of 5.3 million current nonmedical users is up 20% from the 2002 estimate of 4.4 million. Additionally, non-medical users of prescription drugs outnumber new users in any other class of drugs. Of the 2.6 million new users in 2009, 2.2 million were non-medical users of prescription pain relievers.

“The 2009 NSDUH data highlight how serious a threat to public health we face from the abuse of prescription drugs,” said Director Kerlikowske. “The Congressional leaders responsible for today’s forum come from both sides of the aisle, because prescription drug abuse crosses all party lines, income levels, and races. The response to this issue will require collaboration from us all.”

The 2010 National Drug Control Strategy outlines several steps to address what Director Kerlikowske calls “the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States.”

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 dispose of unused or expired prescription drugs to prevent diversion and abuse.
  • Educating prescribers 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 proper use and disposal of painkillers, to observe signs of dependence, and to use prescription drug monitoring programs to detect when individuals are going from doctor-to-doctor (“doctor shopping”) in search of prescriptions.
  • Public education about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. Many people mistakenly believe that prescription drugs are safer to misuse than other illegal drugs, simply because they are prescribed by a doctor. It is important that parents educate their children about the dangers inherent in misusing prescription drugs.
  • Expansion and enhancement of prescription drug monitoring programs. Currently, these programs operate in 34 states. The Administration supports establishment of monitoring 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.