Prescription drug abuse: U.S. announces strategies to reduce painkiller abuse, reduce overdoses

Prescription drug abuse is a crisis in this country, federal government officials said Tuesday, and it’s time to do something about it. Specifically, they want to cut opioid abuse by targeting the people who prescribe the drugs and the users who obtain them.

The report “Epidemic: Responding to America’s Prescription Drug Abuse Crisis,” recommends a four-part strategy to reduce painkiller overdoses. Essentially:

-- Increase education, particularly among parents and children, about prescription drug abuse.


-- Monitor what the report calls “doctor-shoppers”—abusers who get multiple prescriptions for drugs.

-- Encourage safe disposal programs of unneeded or expired medications.

-- Regulate or shut down “pill mills”—pain clinics known for dispensing upwards of hundreds of pills per patient.

Nearly 12,000 people died from an opioid overdose in 2007, up from about 3,000 people in 1999, according to the latest statistics available from the CDC.

Overdoses aren’t slowing down, officials said in the news release announcing the plan:

“Unintentional drug overdose is a growing epidemic in the U.S. and is now the leading cause of injury death in 17 states,” CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said in the release. “There are effective and emerging strategies out there to address this problem.”

Those strategies are shaped by how people get the drugs: About 70% of painkiller users got their last dose from a friend or family member, according to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Most got the pills for free, but 10% bought the pills and 5% said they took them without asking.

While law enforcement worries about pill mills, experts say households can do their part by getting rid of prescription drugs no longer used or that have expired. The FDA has this guide on disposing of prescription drugs:

-- Don’t flush them down the toilet, unless the label specifically says you can.

-- Take unfinished prescriptions to a community drug take-back program. National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is Saturday, April 30, and collection sites can be found by ZIP code or address here.

-- Pour the pills into a plastic bag. If they are solid, add water to dissolve. Then, fill the bag with kitty litter, dirt or coffee grinds—anything to make it look undesirable to children or pets. Seal the bag and throw it in the trash.

-- Take off any identifying information on pill bottles before you throw away or recycle them.