Federal Action Plan to Fight Prescription Drug Abuse Released

Article excerpt

A NEW FEDERAL strategy to curb the nation's fastest-growing drug problem is taking aim at what might be lingering in the medicine cabinets of many Americans.

Responding to an alarming increase in prescription drug abuse, federal health officials in April rolled out the first national prescription drug abuse action plan. The initiative aims to reduce the death toll caused by the abuse and misuse of prescription drugs. In 2007, about 28,000 Americans--one every 19 minutes--died from unintentional drug overdoses driven primarily by prescription drug abuse.

"To put this tragedy in perspective, the number of people who have overdosed on prescription drugs now exceeds the number of people who have died as a result of gunshot wounds," said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, at an April 19 news conference releasing the action plan.

Prescription drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death in 17 states, surpassing even the death toll caused by car crashes in those states, Kerlikowske said.

Federal health officials hope the action plan, "Epidemic: Responding to America's Prescription Drug Abuse Crisis," will move them closer to a goal of reducing prescription drug abuse by 15 percent over the next five years. The plan provides a national framework for reducing prescription drug abuse by supporting state-based prescription drug monitoring programs, educating patients and recommending more convenient and environmentally responsible disposal methods to rid homes of unused medications. The plan also calls for educating the medical community about proper prescribing practices and reducing the prevalence of "pill mills," in which doctors or pharmacists prescribe or dispense powerful painkillers inappropriately.

"This alarming public health crisis is suffocating our society," said Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh, MD, MPH. …