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White House targets prescription drug abuse

By Associated Press
Published March 2, 2004

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is pushing for stronger state monitoring of prescription drug use in a crackdown on the escalating abuse of sedatives, pain relievers and stimulants.

Under the strategy announced Monday, the government will pay states to help develop monitoring systems to track patients' drug use. The programs would flag cases indicating a pattern of abuse, such as "doctor shopping," where a patient gets prescriptions for drugs from multiple physicians.

Federal officials also plan to seek out pharmacies that sell controlled substances illegally over the Internet, which will entail deploying modern Web-crawler technology to search out those peddling prescription drugs online.

The goal, say federal health officials: reduce illegal drug use by 10 percent in two years and by 25 percent in five years.

"The nonmedical use of prescription drugs has become an increasingly widespread and serious problem in this country, one that calls for immediate action," John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said at a news conference.

In addition, the White House is to convene a conference of representatives from professional sports leagues and the U.S. Olympic Committee to discuss steroid use by athletes.

Prescription medicine now ranks second, behind marijuana, among drugs most abused by adults and young people, according to a report by the drug control office. Meanwhile, emergency room visits resulting from abuse of narcotic pain relievers have jumped 163 percent since 1995, it said.

The plan would dedicate about $10-million in federal money to augment prescription monitoring programs in 20 states and expand them to 11 more states by next year. Another $138-million would be dedicated toward physician training and education programs as well as fighting illegal Internet sales.

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports legalizing marijuana for medical use, said Bush's plan will have a chilling effect on doctors.

"The principal impact of this campaign when you step up the law enforcement response is that doctors will err on the side of undertreating pain," Nadelmann said.

Karen Tandy, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said teenagers are particularly at risk for prescription drug abuse. It is her agency's job to crack down on illegal Internet sales, including the flood of spam with the lure of controlled substances at a low cost.

"Criminals who divert legal drugs into the illegal market are no different from a cocaine or heroin dealer peddling poisons on the street corner," she said. "DEA is aggressively working to put an end to this illicit practice whether it occurs in doctors' offices or cyberspace."

Federal officials noted a University of Michigan study that found abuse by high school seniors of Vicodin more than double the use of cocaine, Ecstasy or methamphetamine.

[Last modified March 2, 2004, 01:44:59]

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