Stemming The Tide Lawmakers Mull Options For Slowing Prescription Drug Abuse

A thorn in the side of millions of Americans — addiction to painkillers and other prescription drugs — has reached the nerve center of the U.S. Congress, and lawmakers are scrambling for solutions.

Specifically, legislators are calling for stricter government oversight of legal but potentially addictive prescription drugs, such as painkillers, stimulants, and sedatives.
“The non-medical use of prescription drugs has become an increasingly widespread and serious problem in this country,” said John Walters, head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, last month. “We’re embarking on a comprehensive effort to ensure that potentially addictive medications are dispensed and used safely and effectively.”

The new emphasis by U.S. officials is significant because it brings into the open a situation that doctors, pharmacists, and addiction counselors have known about for years — that is, the increasing ease with which powerful drugs are available.

“There is no program in existence today that is doing everything that needs to be done” to monitor this kind of abuse, said U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., at a recent House subcommittee meeting. And some in government clearly want to implement such a program.

In debating how they might do so, lawmakers are shedding a very public light on the growing prevalance of unregulated Internet pharmacies and the practice known as ‘doctor shopping’ — or receiving multiple prescription orders from different physicians, through different pharmacies, without their knowledge.

Addiction has always been a much easier trap to fall into than escape from — and now federal and state officials alike are grappling with ways to make it more difficult to feed an addiction, or to start down that often-life-wrecking path to begin with.

Sobering Statistics

Abuse of prescription drugs is a bigger problem than many people realize. According to a survey released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human

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