Prescription Drug Epidemic

Posted: September 24, 2011 in Uncategorized
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Gil Kerlikowske, director of National Drug Control Policy for the Obama administration, met 28 JUL with federal, state and local law enforcement officials and pharmacy industry representatives to discuss ways to curb what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is calling a prescription drug epidemic.
The problem is prevalent among both active-duty service members and veterans, Kerlikowske says. In February, the New York Times reported the military's medical system is "awash in prescription drugs" after 10 years of treating troops injured in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. What may prove indicative of the problem locally was a recent warrant issued to search the Carlsbad apartment of a Camp Pendleton Marine suspected of illegally obtaining and selling prescription drugs. One way the administration aims to curb prescription drug use among veterans is to include the Department of Veterans Affairs in a national system that monitors the flow of prescription pills in this country. Kerlikowske also reaffirmed the administration's plan to reduce prescription drug abuse by 15 percent over the next five years. He responded to several related questions put to him by Camp Pendleton Patch:
Camp Pendleton Patch: What can you say about prescription drug use among active-duty service members and veterans as a result of what they’ve been exposed to while at war?
Gil Kerlikowske: We can tell you without fear of being incorrect that the survey instruments on active-duty military show that they have been abusing or self-medicating with prescription drugs. That issue is also quite true with our veterans. … Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense both have published, through their survey work and information, quite a bit. Admiral Michael Mullins [chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] has spoken about the prescription drug issue a year ago when he testified on the DOD budget. … So there is a lot of information coming from this. Also, if you go back a few months ago, USA Today did a piece with a lieutenant general [David Fridovich] … who was on the front page of USA Today talking about his own battle with prescription drugs, and I was really moved by that piece.
Camp Pendleton Patch: What is the Obama administration doing to try and curb this epidemic?
Kerlikowske: Well, first of all, there is a program—a piece of technology called prescription drug monitoring programs—these are electronic databases. Forty-eight of the 50 states have passed laws that … probably about 35 now have active technology programs, which are these monitoring programs. What they do is allow a doctor to search a database and they can detect if a patient is doctor shopping. The doctors call it a real patient safety tool. The other thing that it does is it helps medical boards detect whether or not a doctor may be over just prescribing. … So if you had a VA hospital in a state with one of these programs, they were not allowed to participate because of a decision that had come from the VA General Counsel. So it wasn't a question that they didn't want to participate. But you don't want to see a veteran go into a VA hospital and get a prescription drug filled for painkillers and then go down the street to a private doctor or private pharmacy and get another prescription pill when there's a database that could actually help prevent that. So Sen. [Richard] Blumenthal from Connecticut, who is very active in the issue involving veterans, has moved forward with legislation to allow the VA hospitals to participate in these technology programs that would actually help to improve the safety of our veterans.
Camp Pendleton Patch: (Regarding doctor shopping and pharmacy robberies) Is this something new that’s being targeted by the Obama administration?
Kerlikowske: No one has really captured, until within the last couple years, the extent of this prescription drug epidemic, as the CDC has called it. Part of that epidemic—and within the last year in particular—we have seen this increase in robberies and burglaries of pharmacies. Now it‘s hard to figure out what the data, what the information shows, but if you listen to police departments and pharmacists and the groups that represent the drug stores, they‘ve been very concerned.
Camp Pendleton Patch: Are service members' criminal cases—as they pertain to prescription pills—handled differently than civilians'?
Kerlikowske: What I've seen and what I've visited—I went to the veterans court—there are now about 72 veterans courts in the country; they‘re very new. Robert Russell in Buffalo, NY, started the first veterans court a few years ago when he was coming across cases in which veterans were coming forward with charges maybe involving drugs, could involve domestic violence, that involved domestic dispute issues. So he started a special court for veterans involving the VA, the criminal justice system and also those veterans service organizations. Gen. [Eric] Shinseki visited that court to take a look at how it's working, and we've seen that expand from one in Buffalo to now I believe over 70. … You really see how everyone is concerned and kind of wraps their arm around that veteran to get him or her back on the right track.
Camp Pendleton Patch: Which pills are most sought after?
Kerlikowske: In the past, you would often read, and quite often talk about, OxyContin but the opioids, painkillers, generally are the most abused. Hydrocodone, oxycodone, on and on. So it can be a variety of these very powerful, very addictive and—unfortunately, at times—very deadly painkillers. We‘re seeing more people die as a result of drug overdoses than are dying of gunshot wounds in this country today. And in 17 states we're seeing more people die from drug overdoses than from car crashes. This is driven mostly, by the way, by prescription drugs. Prescription drug overdoses are taking more lives than heroin and cocaine overdoses combined.
[Source: Camp Pendleton Press Jared Morgan article30 Jul 2011 ++]

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