With prescription drug diversion now considered the fastest growing drug threat in the United States, momentum is growing in Congress to crack down on a serious and out-of-control problem which claims the lives of an estimated 20,000 Americans every year. Today, an influential and bipartisan coalition, led by Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack (CA-45), introduced legislation to help stop the rising abuse and addiction of prescription drugs containing controlled-release oxycodone hydrochloride, including the popular pain killer OxyContin.
The Stop Oxy Abuse Act of 2011 (H.R. 1316) would revise U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifications to ensure that these drugs are prescribed only for their intended use, severe pain. Introduced by Congresswoman Bono Mack, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, the bill has the strong backing of Rep. Hal Rogers (KY-5); Rep. Frank Wolf (VA-10); Rep. Stephen Lynch (MA-9); Rep. Vern Buchanan (FL-13); and Rep. Connie Mack (FL-14). All are original co-sponsors.
OxyContin was intended to be prescribed only for severe pain as a way to help patients dealing with late-stage cancer and other severe illnesses. Today, however, more and more people across America are being prescribed OxyContin, as well as other generic oxycodone drugs, for less severe reasons -- clinically known as moderate pain -- greatly expanding the availability and potential for abuse of these strong and powerfully-addictive narcotics.
On Thursday, Congresswoman Bono Mack met in Washington with officials from pharmaceutical giant Purdue Pharma -- the makers of OxyContin -- to better understand what the company is doing to keep the opiate analgesic from being abused, especially by teenagers and young adults. Following a lengthy briefing, Bono Mack said she walked away convinced that drug industry safeguards are not even "scratching the surface" of the growing problem of prescription drug abuse, prompting her to file legislation.
"For people all across America, prescription drug abuse is a life-and-death struggle," Congresswoman Bono Mack said. "It destroys families and wreaks havoc on communities. Someone with a toothache or a sore back should not be prescribed a potentially addictive painkiller. I agree that expanded public education plays a role, but we are not going to make even a small dent in this problem until we limit access to these powerful narcotic drugs and ensure that only patients in severe pain are written prescriptions."
In a related development, Congesswoman Bono Mack announced today that her subcommittee will hold a public hearing into the growing problem of prescription drug diversion on April 14 at 9:30 a.m. in 2183 Rayburn House Office Building. Among those already confirmed to testify are Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy; General Arthur T. Dean, Chairman and CEO, Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA); Sean Clarkin, Executive Vice President, Partnership for a Drug Free America; Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA); Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA); and numerous families who have lost children to prescription drug overdoses.
"For almost a decade, Southern and Eastern Kentucky has been plagued by the illicit diversion of this and other powerful narcotic prescription drugs, making addicts out of a new generation of our youth," stated Congressman Rogers, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "Along with prescription monitoring programs, better prescriber education, and enhanced takeback and disposal programs, mandating the prescription of OxyContin for the treatment of severe pain only will limit its availability to those patients truly in need, curb its availability for diversion and reduce the potential for abuse. This epidemic won't be solved overnight, but this legislation is an important step in the right direction."
"Prescription drug abuse - especially with OxyContin - is a serious problem that is destroying families and impacting communities across the country," said Congressman Lynch. "The FDA has not sufficiently considered the addictive power of OxyContin in allowing it to be widely marketed for public consumption. The FDA has ignored the fact that there is a tremendous commercial advantage in selling a product that is highly addictive -- you create customers for life. In order to effectively fight this epidemic, we need to ensure that these powerful painkillers are prescribed only for severe pain. I commend my friend, Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack, for introducing this bill; it is a critical component in combating oxy abuse, and I am proud to co-sponsor this legislation."
An alarming recent report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows a 400 percent increase in admissions of people aged 12 years and older for treatment of prescription drug abuse between 1998 and 2010. The report also found that this increase was especially pronounced among young Americans aged 18 to 24 and affects families regardless of socio-economic, geographic, ethnic or educational status.
In another disturbing report, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has found that nearly 1 in 20 high school seniors have reported abuse of OxyContin.
Congressman Wolf, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, said: "We need to make sure oxy is only getting to people who really need the drug and not those who are going to abuse it. This bill is a positive step in that direction."
"Prescription drug abuse brings untold misery to our children, our families, and our communities," added Congressman Buchanan. "Chairman Bono Mack has worked tirelessly to curb this growing epidemic. It is an honor to stand beside her on this issue."
The problem of prescription drug abuse made national headlines recently when federal, state and local law enforcement agencies cracked down on so-called "pill mills" in Florida, leading to dozens of arrests -- including five doctors -- and seizing $25 million in property. Congresswoman Bono Mack says the Stop Oxy Abuse Act -- if passed -- would "make it much more difficult for these pain clinics to operate, saving countless lives and sparing many families from the heartache of addiction."