Bush Administration Announces New Campaign To Fight Prescription Drug Abuse
The Bush administration on Monday announced a comprehensive campaign to "crack down" on prescription drug abuse, the Washington Post reports (Kaufman, Washington Post, 3/2). A report released by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy found that 6.2 million U.S. residents abused prescription drugs in 2002 and that prescription drug abuse ranks second behind marijuana as a category of illicit drug use among adults and youth. ONDCP Director John Walters said that the office hopes to reduce prescription drug abuse by 10% in two years and by 25% in five years through "a balanced and comprehensive approach of stopping drug use before it starts, healing America's drug users and disrupting the market for illegal drugs" (Seper, Washington Times, 3/2). Under the campaign:
- The federal government will spend about $10 million to increase from 20 to 31 the number of states with "prescription monitoring programs," which help states detect individuals who seek to fill prescriptions for controlled substances from multiple physicians, as well as questionable prescriptions.
- The Drug Enforcement Administration will use "Web-crawler" and "data-mining" technologies to identify and prosecute operators of Web sites that illegally sell controlled substances without prescriptions.
- The administration will encourage credit card companies and mail delivery services "to deal more seriously" with illegal sales of controlled substances, the Post reports (Washington Post, 3/2).
- The administration will establish "pop-up warning ads" that appear on computer screens when Internet users search for certain prescription drugs and will develop public service announcements on prescription drug abuse that will appear in traditional media (AP/Wall Street Journal, 3/2).
- The U.S. Customs Service will launch a campaign to end illegal shipments of prescription drugs to the United States from other nations (Orr, Newark Star-Ledger, 3/2).
- The administration will implement educational programs that explain to physicians how to detect potential prescription drug abusers (Heil, CongressDaily, 3/1).
Karen Tandy, head of DEA, said that "thousands of Web sites pop up regularly" that sell prescription drugs and that "it has been very difficult" to take action against such sites because they "shut down as soon as they are identified" and "reopen under a different name," the Post reports. A recent study conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University identified 495 Web sites that advertised the sale of controlled substances during a one-week analysis. The study found that of the 495 Web sites, 157 sold opioid-based medications -- such as OxyContin, Darvon and Percocet -- and only 6% required a prescription. House Government Reform Committee Chair Thomas Davis (R-Va.) said that he plans to introduce bipartisan legislation that would establish a new certification system for Web sites that sell prescription drugs (Washington Post, 3/1). Davis, who has begun to draft the bill with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), said that the legislation would require such Web sites to include certain information -- such as an address or telephone number -- and include the state in which they are authorized to sell prescription drugs (Carey, Congressional Quarterly Today, 3/1). Currently, Web sites that sell prescription drugs use a voluntary certification system (CongressDaily, 3/1). Davis said that the bill also would allow state attorneys general to take civil legal action to shut down Web sites that illegally provide prescription drugs in any state. The committee likely will address the legislation this spring, Congressional Quarterly Today reports (Congressional Quarterly Today, 3/1).
A spokesperson for the American Pharmacists Association said that state prescription monitoring programs can have a "chilling effect" on some physicians who treat patients with chronic pain and can make them "second-guess decisions too often," the Chronicle reports. Susan Winckler, vice president of APhA, added, "It's got to be a balancing act. Yes, this (doctor shopping) is a problem, but you don't want to negatively impact legitimate use" (Houston Chronicle, 3/2). Siobhan Reynolds, an advocate with the Pain Relief Network, said, "Doctors who prescribe opioids for pain are becoming increasingly intimidated by the government's targeting of legitimate medicine," adding, "We implore our elected representatives to put the needs of ill Americans ahead of the reckless demands of misguided and self-serving government bureaucracies" (Washington Post, 3/2). However, Tandy said that physicians who prescribe narcotics to legitimate patients with chronic pain "have nothing to fear from the DEA." She said that in 2003, DEA only arrested 51 physicians, the majority of whom were involved in illegal activities such as the prescription sales or fraud. FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan added, "When used correctly, opioids play a very important role in the management of pain" (Newark Star-Ledger, 3/2).
ABCNews' "World News Tonight" on Monday reported on the new administration campaign against prescription drug abuse. The segment includes comments from Walters (Stark, "World News Tonight," ABCNews, 3/1). NBC's "Nightly News" Monday also reported on the campaign. The segment includes comments from Joseph Califano, president and chair of Columbia's NCASA, and Tandy (Hager, "Nightly News," NBC, 3/1). The complete segment is available online in Windows Media. In addition, video from C-SPAN of the announcement of the campaign is available online in RealPlayer for 15 days.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.