More than 6 million Americans are now abusing prescription drugs, and the problem is escalating. Emergency room visits from abuse of prescription drugs have risen 163% since 1995.
To counter this trend, the White House, FDA, and the Drug Enforcement Administration have embarked on a coordinated strategy. It is aimed primarily at shutting down more than 400 illegitimate pharmacies that sell controlled substances over the Internet without a prescription.
One impetus for the move was a survey by the National Center on Addiction & Substance Abuse at Columbia University, which found 495 websites that sell controlled substances. Only six of these sites require a prescription, and none places any restriction on the sale of drugs to children.
"The nonmedical use of prescription drugs has become an increasingly widespread and serious problem in this country, one that calls for immediate action," says John P. Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. "The federal government is embarking on a comprehensive effort to ensure that potentially addictive medications are dispensed and used safely."
The strategy has several parts. The government will use Web-crawling and data-mining technologies to identify and prosecute Internet pharmacies that sell controlled substances illegally. The number of prescription-monitoring programs run by states will be increased in order to find individuals who obtain duplicate prescriptions. And the Administration is asking for $20 million in additional funding in fiscal 2005 to combat the problem.
Congress might take action, too. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) plans to introduce legislation to combat illegal sales of drugs over the Internet.