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For Immediate Release
September 7, 2005
Media Contact:
Kevin Enright 410-576-6357

ATTORNEY GENERAL CURRAN RELEASES REPORT:
" PRESCRIPTION FOR DISASTER: THE GROWING PROBLEM OF PRESCRIPTION DRUG ABUSE IN MARYLAND"


Calls for electronic prescription monitoring program and increased penalties for pharmaceutical diversion


Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. today released a report which warns of a burgeoning crisis of prescription drug abuse and diversion in Maryland and nationwide which will only get worse unless federal and state officials step up efforts to address the problem. Entitled "Prescription for Disaster:The Growing Problem of Prescription Drug Abuse in Maryland," the report makes several recommendations, including the creation of an electronic prescription monitoring program, increased penalties for illegal distribution of pharmaceuticals, and a public outreach campaign to heighten awareness about the dangers of prescription drug abuse, with particular focus on the virtually unfettered youth access to controlled dangerous substances via the Internet.

" More than 30 million Americans have abused powerful pain medications or other prescription drugs at some point in their lives," Curran said. "With our focus on illicit drugs, we haven’t quite realized how serious this problem has become. More people abuse prescription drugs than abuse all other drugs combined except marijuana."

The report cites federal data showing that prescription drug abuse is rising faster and more consistently than abuse of illicit drugs, particularly among young people. An alarming one in five teens report having used a prescription pain reliever, like Vicodin® or OxyContin®, to get high, and they are more likely to have done so than to have experimented with most illicit drugs like Ecstasy, cocaine, crack and LSD.

Maryland is no exception to national trends, with prescription drug abuse rising almost five times faster than abuse of illicit drugs. The State ranked 6th in the nation in its recent rates of admission for prescription drug abuse treatment, and law enforcement officials cite concerns that the Baltimore region is becoming a "source area" for diverted OxyContin®.

" We must put the brakes on this abuse before it tightens its grip here in Maryland any more than it already has," Curran warned. "We need to give more tools to law enforcement and health care professionals to combat illegal diversion and to help those who need addiction treatment."

Adults and teens obtain prescription drugs through prescription fraud, doctor-shopping, theft and the Internet, which is fast becoming a frightening pipeline for prescription drug diversion. While Curran said it must fall to the federal government to impose much-needed regulation on the pharmaceutical Internet trade, which he urged Congress to do, he emphasized steps the State can and should take immediately to address the problem. First, he called for illegal distribution of prescription drugs to be made a felony instead of a misdemeanor. "It’s ridiculous that a criminal activity which is causing so much harm is met with just a little slap on the wrist," he said.

In addition, Curran promised he would work to see that Maryland join 21 other states in establishing an electronic prescription monitoring program, in which a central database of all prescriptions written and dispensed in the State would be kept to help detect abuse and diversion. Most states surrounding Maryland, like Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia, either have or will soon have such programs up and running.

" We don’t want to become an island where criminals can get away with this activity more easily than elsewhere," Curran said. "A prescription monitoring program would go a long way toward helping doctors, pharmacists and law enforcement officials identify people who are abusing medications and need treatment, or are diverting OxyContin and other drugs onto the black market. We need this tool now."

Curran cautioned that a prescription monitoring program must be designed carefully, drawing upon the input and expertise of pain management specialists, pharmacists, law enforcement, patient advocates and others. He has already begun discussions with medical and pharmaceutical experts, and he emphasized the importance of making sure the program would protect patient privacy and would not interfere with the legitimate use of pain relievers and other drugs. Recognizing that people already often have trouble getting prescription pain relievers and other drugs which would be of tremendous help to them, he said, "the last thing we want to do is make that problem worse. We want to keep prescription drugs out of the wrong hands, but we must make sure that doctors can provide the best care possible to their patients, and patients get the medicines they need."

Finally, Curran urged an educational effort to make parents and others more aware of prescription drug abuse, its growing prevalence and warning signs, and the increasing availability of a wide range of powerful prescription drugs on the Internet. "We do not want parents to find out too late that their teenager has overdosed on a prescription pain reliever he ordered while sitting at the computer in the family room," Curran said. "The potential for tragedy here is enormous."

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