In 2010, Prescription Drug Overdoses Accounted for More Fatalities than Car Accidents or Firearms
WASHINGTON, DC – Kicking off a new hearing series, the Subcommittee on Health, chaired by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA), today held a hearing on “Examining the Federal Government’s Response to the Prescription Drug Abuse Crisis.” Prescription drug abuse has plagued the U.S. for many years and continues to be a growing problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classified prescription painkiller abuse as a health epidemic and determined that this is the fastest growing drug problem in the U.S. Over the past decade there has been a more than fourfold increase in opioid overdose deaths. The direct health care cost of prescription drug abuse exceeds $70 billion every year.
“It is abundantly clear that the prescription drug abuse epidemic is a crisis in the U.S. However, while we discuss this complicated and dynamic issue we need to keep in mind that many of these medications that are being abused are also critical for many patients living with chronic pain,” said Pitts. “The Institute of Medicine estimates that there are more than 100 million adults in the U.S. living with chronic pain. It is critical as we move forward that we remember that these medications are critical for many Americans.”
Members heard testimony from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) on the federal government’s response to this growing epidemic. In 2011, the White House released a prescription drug abuse plan entitled, “Epidemic: Responding to America’s Prescription Drug Abuse Crisis,” which outlines proposals in four areas to address the prescription drug abuse crisis: education, monitoring, proper disposal, and enforcement.
Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the ONDCP, noted the epidemic of prescription drug abuse has reached staggering levels, testifying, “The numbers paint a grave picture. In 2010 alone, more than 38,000 Americans died from drug overdose. Drug overdose deaths have become the leading cause of death due to injury in the United States, with drug overdose deaths outnumbering both motor vehicle (35,000) and firearm (31,000) deaths in the United States in 2010).”
Dr. Westley Clark, Director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, shined a light on the work some states are already doing to combat prescription drug abuse. He noted, “State prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) are an important component of government efforts to prevent and reduce controlled substance diversion and abuse. State PDMPs collect, monitor, and analyze scheduled or controlled prescription drugs, with the goal of preventing prescription drug misuse and abuse and illegal diversion. Forty-six states operate PDMPs; three states (Georgia, New Hampshire, and Maryland) have enacted PDMP-establishing legislation but do not yet operate PDMPs; and one state (Missouri) and the District of Columbia have not enacted legislation.”
Dr. Doug Throckmorton, FDA’s Deputy Director of Regulatory Programs at the Center for Drugs Evaluation and Research, highlighted the increased prevalence of “opioids that are specifically formulated to deter abuse.” New drug deterrent opioids seek to prevent addiction and abuse while continuing to improve access to critical medications. “Abuse-deterrent formulations target known or expected routes of abuse, such as crushing the product or extracting the active ingredient from the product to facilitate rapid release of the opioid following swallowing, snorting, or injection,” said Throckmorton.
While today’s hearing is the first in a series being held in the 113th Congress examining prescription drug abuse, the Energy and Commerce Committee has a history over the years in facilitating PDMPs, by authorizing the National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting Act (NASPER). The legislation was co-sponsored by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ). NASPER, which is housed at the Department of Health and Human Services, was signed into law on August 11, 2005, to assist states in combating prescription drug abuse of controlled substances through a PDMP.