Prescription drug abuse continues to be a problem for law enforcement officials in the United States, and much of the increase in abuse has been driven by the rising use of opioid analgesics.
During his presentation at PAINWeek 2012, titled “Rx Abuse: Scope of the Problem,” Charles F. Cichon discussed the prescription drug abuse epidemic as it relates to law enforcement and highlighted issues regarding the abuse, misuse and diversion of prescription medications. “Prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States,” Cichon said.
Cichon added that opioids are the largest class of drugs that abusers use. The highest rates of misuse and abuse are among men, persons aged 20-64 years, non-Hispanic whites, and poor or rural populations. In 2007, approximately one death occurred every 19 minutes due to unintentional overdose in the United States.
Where once law enforcement officials were concerned more with issues arising from the abuse of illicit drugs such as methamphetamines, heroin and cocaine, they now are dealing with the criminal and social consequences of prescription drug abuse. However, Cichon said that, even with the rise of prescription drug abuse in the US, many law enforcement officials receive little to no training in pharmaceutical drug abuse and diversion.
“Statistics that are coming out federally as well as at the state level say that prescription drug abuse now is more prevalent than heroin and cocaine abuse combined,” Cichon said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for every opioid-related death, nine persons are admitted to substance abuse treatment, 161 persons report drug dependence or abuse, and 461 persons report nonmedical use of opioids.
“The bigger problem that we’re seeing unfortunately with this prescription drug abuse is that it is becoming more prevalent among our younger adults, our kids, our children,” Cichon said. “If I was on this stage six or seven years ago and I was giving a profile of a prescription drug abuser, I probably would have said a white male from 25 to 40 years old. That’s not what we see today in our community.”
Cichon added that a younger age bracket, from 12-17 years and 18-25 years, is abusing prescription drugs. “It’s a younger abuse problem that we’re all facing, not only as a medical community, but as parents, grandparents, teachers, law enforcement, and leaders in our communities.”
Cichon said that drugs enter communities through different channels, including international drug smuggling, pharmacy robberies, and unscrupulous rogue Internet pharmacies. These illicit online pharmacies “have no licensed physician, there is no prescription needed, there’s no licensed pharmacy, and typically they are not even in the United States,” Cichon said. “And all they want is our piece of plastic that we have in our wallet: American Express, Diners [Club], MasterCard, Visa. That’s all. They want our money.”
Cichon stressed that while drug diverters use social media and other communication channels to stay connected, that same level of cooperation is not occurring between law enforcement officials.
The Rx Patrol reporting system is a database for law enforcement officials that houses information regarding reports of major pharmacy crime, robbery, and burglary. This investigative tool was created several years ago following a meeting between the pharmaceutical industry and law enforcement that Cichon helped facilitate. “The biggest issue that came out of the room that day was the lack of cooperation among the law enforcement communities,” Cichon said.
Cichon’s presentation made it clear that the law enforcement community and health care providers must find new and more effective ways to cooperate and communicate in order to curb the abuse, misuse, and diversion of opioids and other prescription medications.
By Stephanie Ogozaly
PainLive.com (live PAINWeek conference coverage)