Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Discusses Solutions to Combat Rising Threat of Prescription Drug Abuse

April 14, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC - The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade, chaired by Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), hosted a hearing today to discuss a rising health crisis in America -prescription drug abuse.

In the past twenty years, America has seen a rapid increase in the number of deaths from the accidental overdose of prescription drugs. The misuse and abuse of prescription drugs is now the second leading accidental cause of death in America behind motor vehicle crashes, and in many states, it is the number one killer.  A leading reason for this staggering increase in deaths is the wide accessibility and availability of powerful prescription drugs, particularly painkillers and narcotics. 

"Today, the abuse of prescription drugs - especially painkillers, stimulants and depressants - is the fastest-growing drug problem in America," said Bono Mack. "As someone who has been deeply and personally effected by this issue, I hope today's hearing will lead to a better understanding of the enormous  scope of this problemthe staggering costs - both emotionally and financially - that it imposes on families and communitiesand the need for a greater "sense of urgency" as a nation in addressing it."

The hearing featured the testimony of some of the most prominent experts and enforcement authorities in the field, as well as from families who have lost loved ones to the dangers of prescription drugs. Four panels of witnesses testified to the severity of this problem and identified strategies to help solve this public health crisis and end America's addiction to prescription drugs.

Representatives from the administration's Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Drug Enforcement Administration expressed the need for policies that incorporate both education and enforcement. "Reducing prescription drug abuse is vital to the health and welfare of the American people and is a priority for this administration," said Michele Leonhart, DEA Administrator.

"There are two unique barriers to combating prescription drug abuse compared to illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine: easy accessibility to the drugs and low perception of risk," said R. Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. He went on to suggest that, "Any policy response must be approached thoughtfully and must strike a balance between our need to prevent diversion and abuse of pharmaceuticals with the need to ensure legitimate access."

Governor Rick Scott of Florida and Governor Steven Beshear of Kentucky provided testimony on their efforts to confront this problem which is deeply rooted in both states. Each state has taken a different policy approach to prescription drug monitoring and enforcement, but both governors agreed that states must find ways to work together and with the federal government to fight this growing epidemic. "I believe we can fight this problem and, with the right strategy, I believe we can win," said Governor Scott.

Witnesses personally affected by tragedy stemming from the abuse of prescription drugs gave emotional testimony on the subject. The panel included several parents who had lost children to addiction battles with prescription drugs.  "There are still many people who under-estimate that dangers of abusing prescription drugs," said Phillip Bauer, who lost his youngest son Mark to prescription drug diversion. "Abuse and misuse of prescription drugs is devastating too many families, causing crime and other social issues, filling our treatment centers, and killing too many of our children."

For more information on this hearing and to view witness testimony click HERE.