Senator Warns FDA about New, Stronger Painkillers

New York Senator Charles Schumer is warning the FDA that approving a new painkiller containing pure hydrocodone could have disastrous consequences across the nation. Painkillers that contain hydrocodone currently on the market are known to be highly addictive and have caused fatal overdoses.

New York Senator Charles Schumer has seen the effects of prescription drug addiction in his state and has vowed to fight it.  He warns that a new painkiller promising to be 10 times stronger than Vicodin could lead to more violent and deadly drug store robberies.

In June 2011, New York resident David Laffer was charged with robbing a Long Island drug store of more than 10,000 highly addictive prescription painkillers and killing four people in the pharmacy.  He and his wife had been doctor shopping before the robbery in an effort to get prescription pain pills like hydrocodone, which is highly addictive.

Nationwide, more than 1,800 pharmacies have been robbed in the past three years alone.  Long Island alone has experienced a 125 percent increase drug store robberies.

“It’s tremendously concerning that at the same time policymakers and law enforcement professionals are waging a war on the growing prescription drug crisis, new super-drugs could well be on their way, flooding the market.  The FDA needs to grab the reins and slow down the stampede to introduce these powerful narcotics” Senator Schumer said.

The new painkillers, which contain pure hydrocodone, could come onto the market as early as 2013, with big pharmaceutical companies looking to cash in on the $10 billion prescription painkiller market.  At present, hydrocodone is classified as a strictly controlled Schedule II drug under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. 

Products that contain hydrocodone and another painkiller like acetaminophen fall into Schedule III, which is less strictly controlled.  Some experts argue that because of this, highly addictive hydrocodone has been given to more patients, which has increased abuse of the drug and overdose rates in the United States.

A prescription painkiller that contains pure hydrocodone could lead to more accidental overdoses, leading to more emergency room visits.  Experts say that already thin hospital emergency room resources could become even more strained if this new drug is allowed on the market.  In 2008 alone, emergency room visits related to hydrocodone abuse totaled more than 86,000, up more than 400 percent from 2000 when an estimated 19,000 visits were recorded.

To learn more about prescription drug addiction, read my article “America’s Growing Addiction” at www.vanweylaw.com

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Prescription Drug Overdose Statistics

Unless I am suffering from an extreme case of insomnia, I don’t enjoy studying statistics. Reading them is usually like watching paint dry. However, the old adage "statistics don’t lie" really is true, particularly, when they are from a credible source.

Below is a chart from the CDC showing the increase in prescription pain killer overdose deaths from 2001-2005.

Prescription Opioid Analgesic Deaths Nationwide, 2001-2005

Graph showing the number of prescription opioid analgesic deaths nationwide for the years 2001-2005.

Since 2001, the National Forensic Lab  Information system (NFLIS) has produced estimates of the number of drug items and drug cases analyzed by state and local laboratories from a national representative sample of laboratories. NFLIS provides a unique source of information on the nation’s
drug problem by providing detailed and timely information on drug evidence secured in law
enforcement operations across the country. The results of the NFLIS 2008 survey are complete.

Nationally, reports of alprazolam, hydrocodone, oxycodone, clonazepam, and morphine experienced significant increases from 2001 through 2008. Alprazolam reports almost doubled during this time, while reports of hydrocodone increased 201%, morphine increased 197%, oxycodone increased 178%, and clonazepam increased 70%. Regionally, reports of hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine increased significantly in all census regions from 2001 through 2008. Reports of alprazolam and clonazepam increased significantly in the Midwest, South and Northeast.

We cannot look at these statistics and deny that we have a massive  prescription drug addiction problem in this country.

So, why until recently has the prescription drug epidemic been off the radar screen of most people?

  • Is it because it is a man-made/ home-grown problem that no one wants to accept responsibility for?
  • Is it because some powerful people and powerful corporations  are contributing to the problem?

It is easy to demonize the shady drug dealer selling street drugs on the corner, but some people are reluctant to accept that there are thousands of prescription drug dealers operating every day in this country who have been granted a license to do so. The agencies who are charged with the responsibility for monitoring and regulating them are failing to address the problem. If the do catch a doctor or pharmacist abusing their DEA license, they frequently get off with a mere slap on the hand.

If you deal drugs in a white lab coat or behind a pharmacy counter should  that make you immune from accountability? Why shouldn’t we treat all drug dealers alike, regardless of their educational or socio-economic status?

Statistics don’t lie. Knowledge is power.

We can no longer stick our heads in the sand and deny the existence of the prescription drug addiction epidemic that has hit this country. Shout it from the mountaintops. Educate your friends and family. Ask your local law enforcement and  elected officials what they are doing to address the problem.

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