The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade, chaired by Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), hosted a hearing today to examine the nation's growing prescription drug problem and discuss ways to fight diversion of controlled painkillers, which are now causing more deaths in this country than heroin and cocaine combined.
Prescription drug abuse is a serious health crisis in this country impacting the lives of millions of Americans and their families. The number of accidental deaths from drug overdose has drastically risen in the past twenty years and the death rate continues to climb. Unintentional drug overdose is overtaking motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in America.
"Today, as the death toll from prescription drug overdoses continues to rise sharply, it's time to move this story from the obituary page to the front page where it belongs. It's time to realize that we can't simply wish this horrific problem away -- not with nearly 30,000 people a year dying from it," said Bono Mack. "The problem is much more complex and evolved that just "what have you found lately in grandma's medicine cabinet?' The black market sale of powerful and highly-addictive narcotic painkillers is big business."
Today's hearing focused on current efforts by the federal government, the states, and the private sector to fight this deadly problem. Members heard from government witnesses and industry representatives on current measures being taken to prevent pharmaceutical diversion.
"The ongoing public health and safety consequences of prescription drug abuse underscore the need for action," said R. Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the National Drug Control Policy. He explained that while government programs have achieved some success, there is still a long road to recovery, stating, "We have seen extensive strides in efforts to address the prescription drug abuse problem. The public at large is better aware of the epidemic, and monitoring and disposal efforts have produced results. Unfortunately, however, the efforts have not yet translated into a reduction in prescription drug abuse."
Joseph Rannazzisi, Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Drug Enforcement Administration, described factors contributing to prescription drug abuse and explained the challenges regulators face. "The increase in the abuse of prescription drugs is fueled by many factors, including the development and marketing of new pharmaceutical controlled substances, and ever-changing methods of diversion such as rogue Internet pharmacy schemes or rogue pain clinics. Just as illicit drug traffickers and organizations adapt to law enforcement methods, pharmaceutical traffickers adapt to circumvent laws that attempt to stop the flow of controlled substance pharmaceuticals into the illicit market," said Rannazzisi. "DEA is identifying and investigating threats of diversion at all levels of the distribution chain Federal, State and local officials, law enforcement, professional organizations and community groups continue to work together to fight this epidemic. Progress is being made, but we have a long way to go."
State Attorneys Generals from Florida, Kentucky, and Ohio provided testimony on their latest efforts to confront this problem at a state level. These states have seen measurable success through their drug monitoring and law enforcement programs, but state officials agree the federal government must play a leadership role in efforts to prevent drug diversion nationwide.
"The result of Florida's leadership, teamwork, and structural reforms has been a rapid turn-around in my state's ability to shut down pill mills and curb prescription drug abuse. There is still much work to be done. And I will not consider our efforts truly successful until the number of Floridians dying a day from prescription drug abuse goes from seven to zero," said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Members also heard from pharmaceutical industry representatives who testified about the role drug companies and distributors play in fighting prescription drug diversion and efforts by the industry to address the problem.