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Prescription Drug Abuse in America

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. LYNCH. Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my friend and colleague, Mr. Keating, for his leadership on this issue.

I rise this morning, along with several of my colleagues, Mr. Rahall and Mr. Keating, whom you just heard, and also Chairman Rogers, to talk about the very important issue of prescription drug abuse in America.

Prescription drugs are responsible for the fastest growing area of drug abuse in this country, ahead of cocaine, heroine, methamphetamines, and other drugs. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, prescription drugs cause most of the more than 26,000 fatal overdoses that we see each year. Despite this alarming number, there exists a lack of knowledge about this particular type of substance abuse that prevents many people from identifying it as the problem that it is, and that in turn makes it more difficult to achieve a real solution.

Prescription drug abuse is an epidemic in this country plain and simple, and it must be dealt with as such. While prescription drug medication can help people suffering from a range of chronic and temporary conditions, for many others, exposure to pain medication, whether prescribed or obtained through other means, can be the beginning of a long and tragic battle with addiction. As you heard from previous speakers, from Massachusetts to West Virginia to Kentucky and to California, many of my constituents also struggle with prescription drug addiction and its consequences. Those people are homemakers, they are professionals, they are students and laborers. Addiction does not discriminate.

Abuse of prescription medicine, especially opioid pain relievers, is a major problem nationally and in Massachusetts, where deaths, emergency room episodes, and admissions for treatment related to non-heroin opioids has skyrocketed in recent years. In fact, 99 percent of individuals entering treatment facilities who report heroin use started with a prescription medication like OxyContin.

OxyContin is a narcotic painkiller which has started too many people on this terrible journey to addiction. It is a drug that by design is inherently so powerfully addictive that it actually changes the brain over long periods of treatment, and it creates customers for life. It creates addicts. OxyContin is a drug that has caused so much grief to individuals, families, and communities, has caused so much pain and suffering, that earlier this year the nation of Canada removed it from the market. I commend them for that. I, in fact, filed a bill in May of 2005 to do exactly the same thing in the United States, but because of the powerful lobbying efforts of the drug companies, that legislation was not successful. That's a big part of the problem.

In the United States, we continue to put corporate profit ahead of personal loss. Reports of the abuse of OxyContin surfaced soon after its introduction in 1996, a year in which Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, made $1 billion on the drug. In 2007, Purdue Pharma pled guilty to criminal charges that they intentionally misled doctors, Federal regulators, and patients in regard to the addictive nature of their gold-mine drug in order to boost their profits. Despite its troubled history, OxyContin is still available. In 2011, it earned $2.8 billion in profits for the company.

In addressing the problem, we need to consider the range of contributing factors. We need to look at the composition of the drugs and the marketing of these addictive drugs and the regulatory approval process. There are two measures that I want to note here: one, there has been a significant effort to reformulate this drug so that it is less susceptible to abuse. I commend the drug-makers on that effort. The second issue is with BlueCross BlueShield, which has instituted a limiting factor. It requires a robust reevaluation of any patient who is being prescribed OxyContin over a period of time. I think that is one of the best decisions by an insurance company in this country in some time.

I commend my colleagues on the Congressional Prescription Drug Abuse Caucus for their legislative efforts, and I look forward to continuing to work with them on this very important issue.

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