Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the White House Drug Policy Office, Office of National Drug Control Policy—otherwise known as the nation's drug czar—came to in Fenton Wednesday to lead a summit meeting of legislators, pharmacists and law enforcement agencies to discuss prescription drug abuse.
Missouri is the only state that has not enacted legislation to provide a prescription drug monitoring program.
"Prescription drug abuse is the nation's fastest-growing drug abuse problem," according to materials provided by Kerlikowske. "While there has been a marked decrease in the use of some illegal drugs like cocaine, data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that nearly one-third of people aged 12 and over who used drugs for the first time in 2009 began by using a prescription drug non-medically."
"The same survey found that over 70 percent of people who abused prescription pain relievers got them from friends or relatives, while approximately 5 percent got them from a drug dealer or from the Internet."
Kerlikowske said the misuse of prescription pain relievers is an "alarming epidemic." He said the increase of the abuse of prescription opiod pain relievers—some of the most powerful medications available—"has increased dramatically in recent years."
He added, "Further, opiate overdoses, once almost always due to heroin use, are now increasingly due to abuse of prescription painkillers."
Kerlikowske said solutions to the prescription drug abuse problem are a matter of education, drug monitoring, proper disposal and enforcement. He said parents, for example likely are aware of the dangers of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine use, but not as aware of the same dangers present from abuse of prescription pain-killers. He said pharmacists and others who prescribe such medications also need to be educated on the proper dosages. Often, for example, a doctor or dentist will prescribe 10 pain-reliever pills to a patient, for example, but the patient only needs a few three to four to get through and past a painful recovery time from a medical or dental procedure.
Where do the rest of the pills go? Into the family medicine cabinet to become an easy target for those who are seeking illegal drugs hydrocodone, oxycontin or other opiod painkillers.
Kerlikowski said there are more drug-induced deaths in the United States than there are deaths from gunshot wounds or car crashes.
Joseph Rannazzisi, the deputy assistant administrator of the Drug Enforcement, echoed Kerlikowske's sentiments. He said prescription pain-killers are prescribed in "unreasonable quantities," leaving unused quantities in the home medicine cabinets where teens are getting the drugs from "friends and family for free."
One way to eliminate the problem of unused prescription pain killers being in the home is to dispose of them at one of the many drug "take-back" program often sponsored by local law enforcement agencies, according to Kerlikowske's report.
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One important measure that would help with prescription drug abuse is a statewide monitoring program that would track prescription pain killers. He said it would prevent "doctor shopping" by people who might obtain multiple prescriptions and could alert pharmacists to spikes in prescriptions for the pain killers by a particular patient.
A bill that would have established a statewide monitoring program in Missouri fail in the General Assembly last year. Critics cite privacy concerns for their opposition and also say such a monitoring program would make it harder to obtain needed prescriptions from their physician.
Kerlikowski's report said he will convene a Federal Council on Prescription Drug Abuse, comprised of federal agencies, to coordinate implementation of policies that would alleviate prescription drug abuse.
"Research and medicine have provided a vast array of medications to sure disease, ease suffering and pain, improve the quality of life and save lives," according to his report. "This is no more evident than in the field of pain management. However, as with many new scientific discoveries and new uses for existing compounds, the potential for diversion, abuse, morbidity and mortality are significant. prescription drug misuse and abuse is a major public health and public safety crisis."