New Government Plan to Cut Back on Prescription Drug Abuse

By Emily Murray

With more than 7 million Americans 12 and older abusing prescription drugs in 2009 alone, it’s not surprising that this issue has caught the attention in the White House once again. It seems in the words of the epically tragic Billy Joel song “Only the Good die Young, ” many rock stars and celebrities have lived and died by these faithful words. Sadly, many of these deaths could have been avoided since they can be traced directly to prescription pill abuse.

Pop Culture Icons Who Have Died From Prescription Drug Abuse
Let’s first review some of the great legends who have ultimately died from prescription drug abuse.

  • Jimi Hendrix – Sleeping Pills 1970
  • Marilyn Monroe – Sleeping Pills 1962
  • Elvis Presley – Said to be as many as 14 different drugs including painkillers and sedatives – 1977
  • Anna Nicole Smith – Combination of several drugs – sleep aids, sedatives and muscle relaxers – 2007
  • Heath Ledger – Combination of 6 drugs including sleeping pills, pain killers and sedatives – 2008

This is just a small sampling of celebrities who have paid the ultimate price for their drug abuse, but the epidemic of those abusing prescription pills hits much closer to home for many families. It seems to be a common misconception that if a medication is prescribed by a doctor that this means it is safe for ANYONE to take. This is not the case for many medications including drugs like Viagra, Xanax and many sedatives and sleeping pills.

The White House Plan of Action
On Tuesday, April 19th, the Obama administration took their plans public in a call for $123 million for drug prevention and $99 million for treatment programs in 2012. By this same plan, drug makers would be required to educate the public on how the drug should be used and most importantly how it should never be abused, including potential consequences. This information can take the form of pamphlets and handouts that doctors can provide for  patients who are prescribed a drug form the commonly abused groups of medications called opiates.

In a WSJ Health Blog post this morning, the FDA plans for controlling painkiller use was also highlighted. This plan includes having physicians receive further education from drug makers about the painkillers which they are prescribing. It seems they are adhering to the camp of “with knowledge comes power,” in the hope that preventative practices can be put into place before the prescription pad is ever signed. In order to set this plan in motion, the terms of physician licensing requirements would need to be changed in Congress. As we are beginning to see more political involvement in the prescribing world, this type of goal seems well within reach.

According to the same blog post, a study published by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics found that the most frequently prescribed drug in 2010 was generic Vicodin. Research has also shown that over $400 billion goes to the cost of Vicodin addiction in the U.S. each year. This figure includes treatment costs, traffic accidents, jobs and other related factors.

Looking Forward
With medications that can have tragic effects when placed in the hands of those who will abuse them, the doctors who write the prescriptions must be sure they are not being taken inappropriately by their patient or shared with others to the best of their knowledge. If all goes as planned, both the FDA and the Obama campaign will hopefully begin helping those who would like to get their lives back together and will set a precedent for generations to come.

What do you think is the best plan of action to help cut back on prescription drug abuse? Should it begin with the government, medical industry or family action?