Mr. KEATING. I would like to thank Congressman Rahall for organizing this morning-hour on prescription drug abuse. I would also like to thank Chairman Rogers for his work as well as Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack, Congressman Steve Lynch, and all Members with the Prescription Drug Abuse Caucus.
Prescription drug abuse is defined now as an epidemic in this country, and the cost of this epidemic is more than $70 billion a year. This is by no means just a criminal issue, and that's where the stigma sometimes makes this issue more difficult. It is, indeed, a public health issue, and for this reason Congress needs to step in.
Painkillers account for the country's fastest growing area of drug abuse, which is ahead of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. Throughout my 12-year career as a Norfolk County district attorney in Massachusetts, the susceptibility of new users, particularly of teenagers, to these drugs has been a recurring theme. As district attorney, I have seen in concrete terms that this scourge goes across every social and economic boundary that exists.
I have seen law enforcement officials, while on duty and who were involved in automobile accidents, take these painkillers, become addicted and actually go out with their guns and rob--armed robbery--banks and other institutions in order to just try and feed their habits. I've seen real estate professionals get involved and go to open houses just to search medicine cabinets in order to fulfill their habits. I have also seen young people begin addictions and abuses of prescription drugs from their families' medicine cabinets, finding that later on they cannot afford their habits, and move to a cheaper, purer form of heroin.
I've seen the public health effects of this as well. I've seen the HIV disease spread to people. I've seen 14-year-old girls with hepatitis C as a result of trying to deal with this scourge that is an epidemic around our country.
In Massachusetts alone, 1.7 people every day die of an opiate-derivative overdose. In 2010, the National Institute of Drug Abuse showed that 2.7 percent of eighth-graders, 7.7 percent of 10th-graders, and 8 percent of 12th-graders abused Vicodin. Over 2 percent of eighth-graders, almost 5 percent of 10th-graders, and over 5 percent of 12th-graders abused OxyContin for nonmedical purposes at least once in the year prior to that survey. This is why I've introduced the Stop Tampering of Prescription Pills Act, the STOPP Act of 2012, with Chairman Rogers, Congresswoman Bono Mack, and my other colleagues.
Currently, tamper-resistant mechanisms are in use for some drugs, but this bill is the first of its kind Federal legislation to put a clear pathway for others to come to market. The process outlined in the bill applies both to brand name and generic drugs, both to time-release and to immediate-release pills. Initially, we will incentivize the use of these tamper-resistant processes. Then, in time, they'll be required. This bill is not a silver bullet by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a very important piece in preventing new users from abusing painkillers and safeguarding against overdose. Just as seatbelts and airbags in cars cannot prevent all car accidents, tamper-resistant formulations will not prevent all instances of drug abuse, but it is a necessary tool in protecting vulnerable populations like the adolescents I have spoken about.
With this bill, we're also preparing for the potential onslaught of pure hydrocodone pills. These are currently being developed, and without proper physical and pharmaceutical barriers in place to prevent the tampering of these painkillers, this potential advent of pure hydrocodone will dramatically increase the already alarming rates of abuse and addiction. The bill would mandate the tamper resistance of these pills, as well as many others.
These pills provide great relief for many Americans in terms of extreme pain, but we must do something about another type of pain, a terminal pain, a pain that family members and loved ones feel when they have lost someone to the disease that results in this type of addiction.
I encourage all my colleagues in the House to cosponsor H.R. 6160, and further encourage the development of these tamper-resistant mechanisms. It's not a silver bullet, but it's an important first step.