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WASHINGTON — More than 1.3 million emergency room visits in 2010 were related to abuse of prescription drugs, and the problem has become widespread enough that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies it as an epidemic. In response, curbing abuse of prescription drugs has become a cornerstone of the Obama administration's drug policy.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy's 2013 National Drug Control Strategy, the fourth since 2010, included as a policy focus the prevention of prescription drug abuse, drawing praise from trade groups and government alike.
According to data from 2011, about 2.3 million Americans aged 12 and older used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes for the first time, with 1.9 million of them using pain relievers, mostly opioids. According to the strategy, there are indications that those who abuse opioids eventually turn to injected opiates and eventual use of heroin; according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, compiled by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Substance Abuse and Health Mental Health Services Administration and the non-profit group RTI International, the number of people who used heroin in the past year went from 373,000 in 2007 to 620,000 in 2011.
Still, the administration said, the number of people who abused prescription drugs decreased from 7 million in 2010 to 6.1 million in 2011.
The healthcare distribution trade group HDMA heralded the report.
"We applaud the efforts of the ONDCP in creating a 'modern, balanced … policy' to curb the prescription drug abuse epidemic in this country," HDMA president and CEO John Gray said. "HDMA supports ONDCP's approach to this issue that involves a multilayered strategy, allowing for critical training and education for healthcare professionals; providing adequate funding and interoperability for state prescription drug monitoring programs; the establishment of prescription drug take-back and disposal programs that are safe, accessible and cost-effective; and coordinated law-enforcement efforts at the federal, state and local levels to remove 'bad actors' from the system."
The Food and Drug Administration also praised the report.
"We agree that our nation's front-line healthcare professionals play a vital role in efforts to reduce the abuse and misuse of opioids," the agency said in a statement. "The FDA believes it is critically important to ensure that prescribers have adequate training in opioid therapy; know the content of the most current drug labels; and educate patients about the appropriate use of prescription drugs, their potential risks and proper disposal techniques."
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