Prescription Drug Abuse a “National Crisis”

State Attorney Generals of both Florida and Kentucky testified before Congress this week that the prescription drug problem is a national problem and something the states should approach with unity. White House drug czar agreed, admitting that until recently the federal government hadn’t been too concerned about the growing problem.

Director of the Office of National Drug Control Police Gil Kerlikowske told the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade that the feds simply “weren’t paying attention” to the problem, admitting, “That was a huge mistake.”

According to McClatchy Newspapers, the prescription drug epidemic cost about $56 billion in 2007. These costs were absorbed by doctors, employers, and taxpayers in an effort to control the illegal trade. Since that time, it’s likely to have grown exponentially.

While Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway said the problem is most pronounced in poor communities, prescription drug abuse, not having quite the stigma of other illegal drugs, easily crosses into middle class and upper middle class communities as well.

Kerlikowske said, “People don’t see them as dangerous, people don’t see them as addictive, and people don’t see them as fatal.”

It’s estimated that 100 people die every day from prescription drug overdoses, many of them not expecting their addiction to ultimate kill them.

Several states have responded to the problem with legislation, creating databases to track prescriptions in an effort to identify doctor-shoppers and increasing penalties for prescription drug-related crimes.

Florida began an intensive crackdown last year, hoping to end their reigning title as the “epicenter of prescription drug pill mills.” Prior to the crackdown, illegal prescriptions all over the country and especially those along the eastern seaboard were originating from these clinics where prescription drugs were passed out like candy.

Now, however, those same pill mills have picked up and moved north, invading states like Georgia, Kentucky and Ohio. Leaders are concerned that unless all states have similar legislation and focused enforcement in place, the problem won’t go away anytime soon.

Drug monitoring programs, where prescriptions are tracked from physicians and pharmacists, are currently in place in forty states. But not all of them are working seamlessly. In Kentucky, for example, physicians’ participation is voluntary and thus far only about 25% are participating.

It isn’t clear whether their presence at Congress was in hopes of some national legislation being passed, but lawmakers in both Florida and Kentucky (as well as other states) depend on their counterparts to take the same tough stance against prescription drug abuse.


About David Matson

David writes about criminal justice issues.
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