May 24, 2011

Whitehouse Chairs Hearing on Prescription Drug Abuse

Administration Officials Testify about Plan to Address Growing Problem; Rhode Islander Testifies on Strategies for Combating Abuse

Washington, DC – With drug related poisonings now the leading cause of death from unintentional injury in 17 states, including Rhode Island, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) today brought together a panel of experts to examine the problem of prescription drug abuse and discuss proposed solutions.  Whitehouse chaired a hearing of his Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism entitled “Responding to the Prescription Drug Epidemic: Strategies for Reducing Abuse, Misuse, Diversion, and Fraud.”

“Used properly under a physician’s direction, pain relievers and other prescription drugs bring much-needed comfort to Americans.  But their abuse poses a serious and growing threat to our communities and young people,” said Whitehouse.  “The ever-growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse demands sustained attention from law enforcement, healthcare professionals, and Congress.”

In 2009, approximately 7 million Americans reported misuse of prescription drugs, putting a significant financial strain on our nation’s health care system in the form of increased emergency room visits and medical complications.  The problem has become especially acute among teenagers: six of the top ten abused substances among high school seniors are prescription drugs.  According to the National Institutes of Health, long-term use of prescription pain medication or depressants can lead to physical dependence, depressed breathing, and slowed brain function.

Last month the Obama Administration released a strategic plan to address the abuse of prescription drugs.  The plan seeks to crack down on abuse by expanding state-based prescription drug monitoring programs, recommending improved disposal methods for unused medications, supporting education initiatives, and improving law enforcement efforts.

R. Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy, today testified about the Administration’s plan, saying, “We must ensure that prescription drugs are only used as prescribed and by the person to whom they were prescribed.”  He added, “It is important to balance prevention, education, and enforcement with the need for legitimate access to controlled substances.”

Also testifying today was Laura Hosley of Rhode Island Student Assistance Services, who advocated for community and school-based approaches to combat prescription drug abuse, and highlighted the success of prescription drug “take-back” days.  She stated that at one such take-back day in North Kingstown, “five full boxes were collected by the local state police barracks and town police department.  Overall, in Rhode Island, 1,716 pounds of drugs were collected.”

Other witnesses today included Michele M. Leonhart, Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and John Eadie, Director of the Prescription Monitoring Program Center of Excellence at Brandeis University.



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