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Kirk, Manchin Amendment Would Help Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse

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Location: Washington, DC

With more Americans dying from prescription painkillers than heroin and cocaine combined, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), along with Senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) introduced a bipartisan measure today to make it far more difficult to abuse addictive pain medicine.

The Senators' bipartisan amendment to the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act would reclassify drugs containing hydrocodone as Schedule II substances. As a result, patients would need an original prescription for refills, pills would be stored and transported more securely, and traffickers would be subject to increased fines and penalties. Hydrocodone, a highly-addictive substance, is found in drugs like Vicodin and Lortab.

"Prescription drug abuse is an epidemic that is destroying communities across the nation, wreaking havoc on our education system, devastating our workforce and our economy, and tearing our families apart. This is not a problem unique to West Virginia. Yet, in every place I have traveled in my state, I have heard from residents, community leaders, students, school principals, business owners, representatives from law enforcement and everyone in between: drug abuse is a major problem facing their communities and its effects are very far-reaching. Portions of our workforce can't find employment because they can't pass a drug test, which means that they remain unemployed and positions are going unfilled," Senator Manchin said. "It's time to make sure our employers can get back to hiring, and the people of West Virginia can have strong, drug-free communities. Our children need positive role models who can show them what a successful future looks like."

"Prescription drug abuse is rapidly rising, with 200,000 Illinois teens and young adults having abused pharmaceutical narcotics in 2010," said a spokesperson for Senator Kirk. "This bipartisan amendment provides law enforcement with greater tools to monitor the distribution of hydrocodone drugs, such as Vicodin, and decrease access for people using them for non-medical purposes."

"Painkiller abuse is cutting too many lives short, spreading violence into our communities, and draining our schools and businesses of productivity. It's time to take action," Senator Gillibrand said. "Our bipartisan bill is a strong strategy to fight this scourge at its source with new protections to keep prescription drug use in check, keep highly addictive painkillers out of the hands of criminals and off our streets to keep our families and communities safe."

"The illegal use and sale of prescription drugs is wreaking havoc on communities across New York and the country, and we must do everything possible to stop this epidemic in its tracks," said Senator Schumer. "Prescription drugs, like Oxycontin and Vicodin, and the growing violence that results from addiction to these pain killers, is a scourge on our local communities. It's time to put a stop to it, and this stricter classification of all hydrocodone, a key ingredient in these addictive pain medicines, would mark an important step in the right direction, while still guaranteeing access to pain medication for those who truly need it."

"We absolutely must fight back against the epidemic of prescription drug abuse, particularly in West Virginia," said Senator Rockefeller. "And I have long sought to improve the tools available to health care professionals to reduce overprescribing and misuse of drugs. This problem is very real for so many families and communities in my state, and we must continue to combat abuse on all fronts. This amendment is another positive step forward."

The abuse of hydrocodone has been growing at an alarming rate nationwide. In 2010 alone, pharmacies dispensed the equivalent of 42 tons of pure hydrocodone -- that is enough to give 24 Vicodin pills to every man, woman and child in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 40 people die every day from overdoses involving narcotic pain relievers like hydrocodone (commonly known as Vicodin) methadone, oxycodone (known as OxyContin) and oxymorphone.

Under the Controlled Substances Act, drugs that are subject to abuse and can have harmful effects are classified and regulated according to five schedules, based on their potential for abuse and medicinal usage. Schedule I contains the most dangerous substances and is the most restrictive, whereas Schedule V is the most permissive category of drugs.

Currently, pure hydrocodone is considered a Schedule II drug. However, when certain quantities of hydrocodone are combined with substances like Tylenol, they are listed in a less stringent category, Schedule III.

The bipartisan amendment would eliminate the exemption in Schedule III for hydrocodone-combination drugs, so that all substances containing hydrocodone -- including Vicodin and Lortab -- would fall into Schedule II.

Background:

-According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States, and it's claiming the lives of thousands of Americans every year.

-According to a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control in November, the death toll from overdoses of prescription painkillers has more than tripled in the past decade.

-The finding shows that more than 40 people die every day from overdoses involving narcotic pain relievers like hydrocodone (commonly known as Vicodin) methadone, oxycodone (known as OxyContin) and oxymorphone.

-Prescription drugs are responsible for about 75 percent of all drug-related deaths in the United States -- and 90 percent in West Virginia.

-These prescription painkillers kill more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined.

-A 2012 study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that 8 percent of high school seniors had admitted to abusing Vicodin in the past year. Non-medical hydrocodone use among high school seniors is now second to only marijuana, and far exceeds the abuse of other commonly-used drugs like Adderall, Oxycontin, and Ecstasy.

-The 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that 23.5 million people nationwide (approximately 9.3% of the U.S. population, aged 12 and over) have used hydrocodone for non-medical purposes.

-The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration finds that almost 5,500 Americans begin to misuse prescription painkillers every day.


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