If one were to create a list of the prescription drugs most likely to cause addiction and dependency, OxyContin, morphine, and methadone would be right at the top. In fact, these drugs are also among those responsible for the alarming increase in ‘accidental poisoning deaths’ - 20,950 in 2004, up from 12,186 in 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and there's no sign it letting up. Drug detox and drug rehab centers are also seeing an increasing number of people seeking help to get off these drugs. Why, then, did the DEA, on December 19th, relax the prescribing rules for these and other dangerous drugs?
On September 6, 2006, the DEA proposed to amend the regulation on prescribing Schedule II drugs - doctors used to be limited to giving 30-day prescriptions and these are now extended to 90 days. The ruling was motivated by over 600 comments from “physicians, pharmacists, nurses, patients, and advocates for pain treatment, " according to the DEA press release of the same date. DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy said the proposed ruling “reiterates the DEA's commitment to striking the proper balance to ensure that people who need pain relief get it, and those who abuse it, don't. "
The DEA press release also included information about these drugs and said that prescription drug abuse is a growing epidemic that requires everyone's vigilance. Here are the statistics they presented.
* Nearly 1 in 10 high school seniors admits to abusing powerful prescription painkillers.
* Today, more new drug users have begun abusing pain relievers (2.4 million) than marijuana (2.1 million) or cocaine (1.0 million).
* 6 million Americans are currently abusing controlled substance prescription drugs - that is more than the number abusing cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, and inhalants, combined.
* Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that opioid prescription painkillers now cause more drug overdose deaths than cocaine and heroin combined.
* Admissions to treatment (whether it was for drug detox, drug rehab or some other type of treatment was not specified) for prescription opiates swelled by a third in just two years (from 46,972 in 2002 to 63,243 in 2004).
September 6, 2006 also marked the beginning of the 60-day public comment period during which any member of the public is invited to support the ruling, protest it, and so on. Comments were made and reviewed, and the proposed ruling became final on December 19, 2007.
How, in light of the devastation caused by these drugs, could such a ruling ever have passed?
The answer lies in the public comments - not in the comments themselves, but in the number of comments that actually reached the DEA. According to the DEA release about the final ruling, there were 264 comments. That's right, 264: Less than 1.3 percent of the number of people who died from ‘accidental poisoning deaths’ caused by prescription drugs in 2004 alone. And an infinitesimal percentage of those who have sought drug detox or rehab for themselves, a friend of a family member.
Why didn't the mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters and friends of those who died from ‘accidental poisoning deaths’ speak up? Why didn't the DEA hear from the 63,243 people who sought drug detox and rehab for prescription drug addiction and abuse in 2004? Why didn't the DEA hear from the millions of people whose lives are negatively affected by prescription drug addiction and abuse?
I would bet that the underlying reason is simply that they didn't know about it. The DEA advised vigilance, advice heeded by far too few, but now that the ruling has been finalized, individuals and groups are coming out of the woodwork to protest it and get it rescinded.
Lesson learned? With drug addiction and abuse, as with most other things in life, you can't just sit back and wait, or hope that someone else will do the right thing. While getting someone into a drug detox program and rehab is vital, staying abreast of situations like the proposed DEA ruling and taking action is your only hope of real control. When opportunity knocks - open the door for crying out loud.
Gloria is a freelance writer who contributes articles on health contact:firstname.lastname@example.org