Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Momentum for Pill Initiative

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Momentum for Pill Initiative

Article excerpt

CONGRESS: Buchanan's hopes for reform seem poised to pick up allies

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan is embarrassed by Florida's inability to shake its image as the nation's pill mill capital.

For six years, Buchanan has pushed Congress to change prescription drug laws to make it harder to refill some of the most abused medications that federal statistics show are too often doled out in Florida.

"It's killing seven people a day in Florida," Buchanan said. "How many more kids have to die?"

Though his efforts have not yet produced a law, momentum is building, potentially making this year his best chance yet. Today, Buchanan's effort is set to gain dozens of critical allies in Congress. More than 30 members from across the nation, including Democrats and Republicans, are expected to sign onto a measure that would change the way one of the most addictive painkillers -- hydrocodone -- is classified. The change would require tougher rules for prescribing and refilling medications with hydrocodone, such as Vicodin.

The support is unprecedented, dramatically improving the outlook for the legislation. Democrats Joe Manchin, a West Virginia senator, and Ed Markey, a Massachusetts representative, are among those supporting the bill.

"I really think it is going to happen," Buchanan said. "I think everybody gets it now."

Since 2000, the number of emergency room visits for hydocodone overdoses has jumped from 19,000 to almost 90,000 in 2009 nationwide, the most recent numbers released by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

Drug abuse deaths are not just an anecdotal story for Buchanan. His motivation has a name: Todd Lyerly.

Eight years ago Lyerly took his life at age 18 after he was overcome by his addiction to pain medications.

His mother Ruth, who lives in Bradenton, said Todd told her just before he died he did not think he could be helped.

"If I knew then what I know now," Ruth Lyerly said about prescription drug abuse.

To that end, Lyerly and other mothers in the community who have lost children to prescription drug abuse have responded by visiting schools, meeting with politicians and spreading their stories to prevent other families from suffering the same fate. …

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