- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 10, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Bad behavior with good medicine is a pressing issue. Prescription drugs improve the lives of millions of patients every day.

Yet medicines critical to treating legitimate health problems are increasingly being used recreationally by teenagers. Misusing these drugs is tragic. I speak not only as a representative of America’s pharmaceutical research companies but also as a father when I say how important I believe it is to end prescription drug abuse.

That is why it is so important that the U.S. Senate has passed a resolution designating February 10-16, 2008, as National Drug Prevention and Education Week. The resolution helps focus national attention on this less widely known drug-abuse problem in America.

The statistics on abuse of prescription drugs and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are alarming.

For the first time, abuse of prescription drugs has overtaken abuse of drugs that are illegal. Seven million Americans abuse prescription drugs — more than the number of those abusing cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens and Ecstasy combined — according to the U.S. Justice Department. In just six years, abuse of prescription drugs has increased 80 percent.

Many abusers are teenagers. Some 6.4 million American children 12 or older have reported using prescription drugs for a nonmedical use, according to the National Survey on Drug Use. Supporting data from the Partnership for a Drug Free America show 1 in 3 teens has reported having a close friend who has abused prescription pain relievers to get high, 1 in 4 teens have reported having a close friend who abuses cough medicines to get high, and 1 in 5 teens have reported being offered prescription medicine from a friend or peer to get high.

Key in fueling these alarming numbers is the unfortunate perception that prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines are safer to abuse than are street drugs. Justice Department research, for example, has found as many as 40 percent of teens and their parents think abusing prescription painkillers is safer than abusing street drugs.

The Senate resolution is right on target in pointing out this lack of understanding among teenagers and their parents about the potential harm of these powerful medicines, and the critical need to raise public awareness about the dangers associated with their nonmedical use.

The abuse of prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines is a problem that America’s pharmaceutical research companies are committed to fighting. Like the American Medical Association and such organizations as the Partnership for a Drug Free America we support the campaign against prescription drug abuse recently launched by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. We have worked with D.A.R.E. America (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) to help develop, for example, new and specialized ways of teaching about prescription drug abuse to children in grades five, seven, nine and 12. We are proud to be part of such efforts to protect America’s youth.

In designating Feb. 10-16 as National Drug Prevention and Education Week, the Senate took a critical and welcome step in helping our country’s children understand that prescription medicines are good, but that using them to get high is dangerous.

Billy Tauzin is president and chief executive officer of PhRMA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and a former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Louisiana.


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