September 7, 2005
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
get worse unless federal and state officials step up efforts
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
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
prescription drugs than abuse all other drugs combined except
The report cites federal data showing that prescription drug
abuse is rising faster and more consistently than abuse of
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
legitimate use of pain relievers and other drugs. Recognizing
that people already often have trouble getting prescription
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
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
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."