Medical experts testified Thursday before a congressional subcommittee looking into how the Medicare and Medicaid systems can help prevent and treat prescription drug abuse.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., introduced a bill last year that would promote physician and patient education and create a uniform reporting system for painkiller-related deaths. It also would provide federal funding to help establish and maintain drug monitoring programs that all states can access.
"The availability of powerful prescription drugs has in some ways gotten ahead of our ability to prescribe them safely," said Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Health Care that met in Washington, D.C.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, asked state Medicaid directors in January for data on their top Medicaid prescribers. Among the responses, Grassley said the top prescriber of Oxycodone in Maine wrote 1,867 prescriptions in 2009, nearly double that of the next highest prescriber. In Nevada, a prescriber wrote 6,800 prescriptions for anti-psychosis medication in 2010 and 2011 and received $2.75 million in payments from the Medicaid system.
A 2010 study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in five high school students had taken a prescription drug that they didn't get from a doctor, including pain pills and attention deficit drugs used as study aids.
"Just as we have worked to change public attitudes towards seat belt use and drunk driving, we will need to address misinformed societal attitudes towards the recreational use of prescription opioids," said Dr. Jeffrey Coben, director of West Virginia University's Injury Control Research Center in Morgantown.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said law enforcement officials in New York believe the prescription drug abuse crisis is greater than crack cocaine and heroin — "and growing at clearly the most rapid rate."
Two fatal pharmacy holdups occurred last year on Long Island. Last June, a man shot and killed two employees and two customers while robbing a pharmacy in Medford. On New Year's Eve, a federal agent intervening in a Seaford pharmacy robbery was killed in a suspected "friendly fire" shooting. The suspect also was killed.