Hundreds of representatives from the public and private sector are in
for an inaugural
abuse summit, which included keynote presentations Tuesday from the
drug czar and a top U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration official.
U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, whose home state of Kentucky has been battling its own prescription drug abuse problems for years, noted that tens of thousands of pills are being transported through Florida's drug pipeline to other parts of the country.
And nationally, the prescription drug problem has reached epidemic proportions, said R.
, director of the
"We have to attack this in a holistic way," he said. "And that's exactly what we are doing."
Kerlikowske and other speakers stressed the importance of taking a multi-pronged approach to solving the prescription drug epidemic, which claims thousands of lives each year.
Joseph Rannazzisi, a Deputy Assistant Administrator with DEA's Office of Diversion Control, told the large audience that part of the problem is that people think prescription drugs are acceptable and there's no stigma, compared with other illicit drugs.
Young people most often get their pills from their home medicine cabinet, he said.
"Kids believe this is acceptable. Why? Because they see their parents take it," Rannazzisi said.
After Tuesday's keynote presentation, Kerlikowske spoke with the Orlando Sentinel about prescription and other illicit
Q. Generally speaking, what are the latest trends you are seeing in terms of illicit drug use in the United States?
A. The synthetic drug problem — it has really taken off in the last year. That's the K2 and the Spice and the bath salts. When we've been meeting with our overseas partners, particularly the European and UK, they have been dealing with this for several years. Synthetic drugs are certainly a key issue for us right now.
Q. What role are prescription drugs playing nationally? Is it still the top problem?
A. We still see it as the No. 1 problem.....If you look at the number of prescriptions being written, the number of people going in for emergency department visits, prescription drugs, given the lethality and the addictive properties, are still significant.
I would just caution….Also the issue of moving from prescription drugs to
. That is a two-edge sword. One is that heroin is less expensive by far than the prescription drugs. We also have a group of heroin abusers that are what we call heroin naive. If you talk to people my age or people in their 40s or 50s, they know and recognize the dangers of heroin, whether its
from the healthcare side, to the addictive properties. But if you talk to younger people, there is this kind of understanding that well, if I snort it or smoke it then I won't become addicted. And then within sometimes within weeks, let alone months, they're injecting.
Q. Are any of the changes made in Florida in recent years — the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, increased criminal investigations, legislation — making an impact yet?
A. For Florida, I don't think it's too soon to say that all the trends are running in the right direction. There's the public attention to the issue. And there's the new laws, the enforcement that has gone on. I think all of those things combined show that Florida is on the right path.
Q. Is there any particular program, tool or law that could be enacted that would help curb the nation's prescription drug abuse problems?
A. There's no silver bullet….If I was to put greater hope in one particular thing, it would be mandatory prescriber education. The knowledge that's been gained about these very powerful pain....the physicians, the health care professionals have to have that training, and it has to be mandatory.