America's fastest-growing drug problem: Prescription drug abuse

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, center, accompanied by Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske, left, and Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Howard Koh, speaks during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, Tuesday, April 19, 2011, to announce new prescription drug safety measures and a plan to fight prescription drug abuse.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, center, accompanied by Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske, left, and Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Howard Koh, speaks during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, Tuesday, April 19, 2011, to announce new prescription drug safety measures and a plan to fight prescription drug abuse.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Prescription drug abuse is the nation's fastest-growing drug problem, according to the office of National Drug Control Policy.

It is now the second-most abused category of drugs after marijuana, and the second leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. after car accidents.

In a joint press conference today, representatives from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the Obama administration's new National Prescription Drug Abuse Plan aimed at saving lives and stemming the abuse.

"America is in the midst of a health epidemic driven by prescription drugs," said Gil Kerlikowske, the White House Director of National Drug Control Policy (NDCP), adding that the number of people who overdose on prescription drugs now exceeds the number who die of gunshot wounds.

The plan includes better tracking and monitoring of painkillers, better and more organized drug disposal plans, education programs to make patients and doctors aware of the risk, and better enforcement aimed at eliminating pill mills and doctor shopping.

To pay for this, the NDCP is requesting an additional $123 million for drug prevention programs and $99 million for treatment programs in the 2012 fiscal year.

One criticism of the program is that a new DEA training requirement for physicians to become licensed to prescribe these types of commonly-abused drugs would be written by the drug companies themselves.

DEA administrator Michelle Leonhart said that although the materials would be prepared by the manufacturers, they would be thoroughly reviewed by the DEA before implementation.

In such an austere budget climate, any request for new spending is likely to hit some resistance on the Hill. But Kerlikowske said he is confident the plan will get the funding it needs and be a success.

"I am incredibly optimistic that over this next year we are going to make a big dent in this problem," he said.