Prescription Drug Abuse Examined from Different Views

The speakers at Friday’s symposium on prescription drug abuse discussed the outlook and challenges from the federal, state, and individual physician’s perspectives.

Timothy Condon, Ph.D., Science Policy Advisor, Office of National Drug Control Policy, opened the session by reviewing a set of troubling prescription drug abuse statistics, followed by a description of the Obama Administration’s Prescription Drug Abuse Action Plan, which will be released April 19.

He said the plan would focus on education for parents, patients and prescribers, as well as monitoring programs, medication disposal, and enforcement.

Prescription drug abuse is a big problem with teens. Studies show they think prescription drugs are safer, less addictive, and less risky than street drugs. Six of the top 10 abused substances by high school seniors are prescription drugs. And in what Dr. Condon called “the most disturbing data,” new initiates to psychotherapeutic drug use exceed those for marijuana in 2008 and 2009.

Education is also an issue for doctors. “You all know that in medical school little attention is paid to substance abuse,” said Dr. Condon. “So we need to do a better job.”

Because painkillers and anxiety prescription drugs are often dispensed in quantities greater than necessary, the leftovers end up sitting in medicine cabinets — thus the disposal issue.

“We need to change the norm, we need to actually make this like recycling, where we safely dispose of prescription drugs. You can’t just take them back,” said Dr. Condon. The Drug Enforcement Agency will have a national medication take-back day every six months; the next one is April 30.

Joshua Sharfstein, M.D., Secretary of Health, Maryland, noted that take-back programs collected 121 tons of prescription drugs in 2010.

Seven million Americans reported non-medical use of prescription drugs in 2009, Dr. Condon said. The consequences for the nation are huge in terms of emergency room visits — which almost doubled from 2004 to 2008 — drug-induced deaths, and economic costs — which were estimated to be $53 billion in 2006 due to opioids taken for non-medical use.

Then there are the deaths. Since about 2006, drug-induced deaths actually outnumbered suicides, firearm accident deaths, and homicides. In 17 states and the District of Columbia, drug-induced deaths outnumber those from motor vehicle accidents.

Dr. Sharfstein lamented that drug overdose death rates have never been higher. “We’re talking about more than 11,000 unintentional deaths (per year) — really tragic,” he said.

Regarding prescription drug monitoring, Dr. Sharfstein said that when pushing for legislation to create such a system in Maryland, “We explained this was a very big public health problem, not a law enforcement issue.”

“I think there’s a tremendous opportunity for public health and addiction medicine to work together to save a lot of lives,” he said.

Herbert Malinoff, M.D., FACP, FASAM, Department of Anesthesiology, University of Michigan Medical Center, said physicians who have access to an automated prescription service, like the one in Michigan, should use it. – See more at: