CDC Declares Prescription Drug Abuse an “Epidemic”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Deputy Director Ileana Arias, Ph.D., will present the keynote lecture during the Policy Plenary, “Addressing Prescription Drug Abuse: Role of the Physician in Counteracting Diversion, Misuse & Addiction” from 8 to 9:30 a.m., today, in the Grand Ballroom East, Ballroom AB. Leading addiction medicine experts also will serve as panelists for the Policy Plenary, providing their insights and knowledge on prescription drug abuse.

Dr. Arias comes to the Policy Plenary fresh from her presentation in mid-April before hundreds of participants at the National Rx Drug Abuse Summit, where she called prescription drug abuse an “epidemic.” Hear what additional ideas and recommendations she has to share during today’s address.

“The CDC doesn’t take the word ‘epidemic’ lightly,” she says “Success [in stemming the epidemic] will come through collaboration with all stakeholders.”

At the summit, Dr. Arias specifically drew attention to the correlations between opiate sales and the number of overdose deaths in the United States. As opiate sales have gone up, so have overdose deaths from 1999 to 2010, she says, adding that opiate abusers generate more than eight times in annual direct health care costs than non-abusers.

The National Rx Drug Abuse Summit convened April 10-12 to foster a better understanding and cooperation among all stakeholders in the prescription drug abuse arena. Stakeholders include state and national leaders, law enforcement officials, medical professionals, community advocates, treatment experts, educators, insurance and benefits managers, and private industry leaders.

On its Injury Prevention and Control website, the CDC reports that 100 people die from drug overdoses every day in the United States. The agency also reports that drug overdose death rates in this country have tripled since 1990. CDC data further indicate that in 2008, 36,000 people died from drug overdoses, and most of these deaths were caused by prescription drugs. Additionally, the sale of these strong painkillers has increased 300 percent since 1999. These drugs were involved in 14,800 overdose deaths in 2008, more than cocaine and heroin combined, according to CDC data.

The Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported in 2010 that misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers were responsible for more than 475,000 emergency department visits in 2009, a number that nearly doubled in just five years.

The CDC further reports that the drug overdose epidemic is most pronounced in the Southwest and Appalachian regions, and rates vary substantially among states. The highest drug overdose death rates in 2008 were found in New Mexico and West Virginia, which had rates nearly five times that of the state with the lowest rate, Nebraska.

The CDC Injury Prevention and Control website also drew on research from many addiction research sectors that identified patient populations at greater risk for prescription drug overdose: individuals obtaining multiple controlled substance prescriptions from multiple providers, patients taking high doses of prescription painkillers daily, low-income residents in rural areas, and the mentally ill with a history of substance abuse. CDC reports show that Medicaid recipients are prescribed painkillers at twice the rate of non-Medicaid patients and are at six times the risk of overdose from prescription painkillers.

The CDC also offers recommendations for reducing the incidence of prescription drug abuse. For starters, the agency supports prescription drug monitoring programs to track the prescribing and dispensing of these drugs to patients through databases. The CDC also endorses the implementation of patient review and restriction programs to monitor signs of inappropriate use of controlled prescription drugs. Health care providers should follow evidence-based guidelines for safe and effective prescribing of addictive painkillers. The CDC also supports federal and state legislation to prevent prescription drug abuse and diversion. Importantly, the CDC recommends better access to substance abuse treatment to reduce overdose among people struggling with dependence and addiction, as well as action on the state level to increase access to these programs.