When White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske recently toured Appalachia, he met with 14 imprisoned women who were in drug treatment, 13 of whom were being treated for prescription-drug use.
Kerlikowske asked the women how many had been to Florida to get their drugs. “Thirteen of the 14 raised their hand,” Kerlikowske said.
So it may be no surprise that Kerlikowske has an interest in what Florida — considered a key supply source for prescription drugs — does to help solve the problem.
The debate over how to tackle the prescription-drug problem in Florida was renewed last month when Gov. Rick Scott proposed eliminating the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, a database touted as one of the best tools for fighting prescription drug abuse.
Kerlikowske was in Florida last week and spoke with the Orlando Sentinel
Q: Florida officials say the state is a key supplier of prescription drugs. Is this accurate?
A: Oh, yeah. Not only the data — about where people are dying and where they’re overdosing — but where the pills come from. They’re being issued in Florida, they’re being filled in Florida. I think it’s absolutely accurate. Unfortunately, Florida is a key supplier.
Q: Do you think Florida should implement its Prescription Drug Monitoring Program?
A: Yes. Absolutely. We don’t claim — and I don’t think anybody claims — it’s an end-all and be-all to the prescription-drug problem. But when you look at approaching this problem, you’ve got to approach it holistically. This is just one of those tools. The PDMPs are a good start.
Q: Your office has said prescription-drug abuse is the fastest-growing drug problem in the U.S. How does this compare with other drug problems?
A: In the big picture, it really does stand out greater in many ways. Look at the number of deaths. It’s greater than heroin and cocaine overdose deaths combined. In 17 states, it’s greater than car crashes. In those 17 states it would be the No. 1cause of accidental death.
If there was a headline that said Toyota Priuses were responsible for 36,000 deaths a year, there would be a huge outcry. And yet, this one is very difficult.
Q: What makes prescription abuse different from abuse of other drugs?
A: People don’t recognize the danger of prescription drugs. When I was in Appalachia, they often talked about sharing drugs. There are a lot of people from the agriculture industry and mining industry who have injuries, and they would be prescribed prescription drugs. Someone else would have an injury, and that drug would be shared. It was a pretty common thing.
These are pharmaceuticals. I think it really does make it a much harder epidemic … to combat. That’s why prevention is going to be the key, not just trying to shut down pain clinics.