BANGOR, ME – Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) today held a committee hearing in Bangor, Maine, to call attention to the growing problem of prescription drug abuse and how these medications are diverted from their legitimate purposes.
“It is tragically clear that prescription drugs, many as powerful and addictive as illicit drugs, increasingly are being diverted from legitimate use to illegal trafficking and abuse,” said Collins. “The diversion of prescription drugs must be brought under control, but measures to accomplish that cannot interfere with access to pain-relieving drugs by legitimate patients.”
In 2001, deaths from prescription drug overdose exceeded, for the first time, deaths from illegal drugs, an alarming trend that continues today. The number of Americans who regularly abuse prescription drugs was estimated at 1.6 million in 1998; today, that estimate is 9 million.
Collins pointed out that while many rural states are experiencing epidemics of prescription drug abuse, no state has been hit harder than Maine. The number of accidental deaths in Maine from all drugs increased six-fold from 1997 to 2002, jumping from 19 to 126. Prescription drugs were present in 60 percent of those deaths last year. According to the 2002 Maine Youth Drug and Alcohol Survey, 25 percent of the state’s high school juniors and seniors abuse prescription drugs.
The hearing also focused on prescription drugs such as methadone and OxyContin, which are prescribed for legitimate purposes but have the greatest potential for abuse and addiction. Collins noted that the dramatic increase in methadone abuse and deadly overdose coincides not only with a crush of new prescription opiate addicts needing treatment and with methadone’s resurgence as a pain medication, but also with the changes in the federal regulation of addiction treatment clinics in 2001.
Collins, whose committee has oversight of the federal agencies responsible for the regulation of prescription drugs, pledged to work to secure federal support for state efforts to address the problem of prescription drug abuse.
During the hearing, Collins and Senator John Sununu (R-NH) heard testimony from:
– Dr. Margaret Greenwald, Chief Medical Examiner, Maine
– Marcella Sorg, Ph.D., University of Maine Margaret Chase Smith Center for Public Policy
– Dr. John Burton, Emergency room Physician, Maine Medical Center, Portland, Maine
– Kimberly Johnson, Director, Office of Substance Abuse, Maine
– Michael Chitwood, Chief of Police, Portland, Maine
– Lieutenant Michael Riggs, Washington County Sheriff’s Department, Maine
– Detective Sargeant Jason Pease, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department, Maine
– Dr. Richard Dimond, Spokesman, Mount Desert Island anti-drug citizens group, Maine
– Barbara Royal, Director, Open Door, Ellsworth, Maine
Senator Collins’ opening statement and witness testimonies are available at: http://www.senate.gov/~govt-aff/_files/080603witness.htm.