Washington Update

Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control Holds Hearing on Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse

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On May 14, the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control held a hearing prompted by the upswing in prescription drugs and heroin abuse. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) stated in her opening statement that all stakeholders share a responsibility to ensure that prescription opioids are prescribed and dispensed only for legitimate medical purposes.

At the hearing, the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Nora Volkow, testified that opioid prescriptions had nearly tripled in the past 25 years, jumping from 76 million in 1991 to almost 207 million in 2013. Volkow blamed the increase on what she called the broad “environmental availability” of prescription medications overall and opioid analgesics in particular.

Michael Botticelli, acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, testified that “the use of these opioids translates into very real health consequences. In 2012 alone, approximately 2.1 million Americans met the diagnostic criteria for abuse or dependence on prescription pain relievers, while heroin accounted for approximately 467,000 people with past year abuse or dependence.”

The issue of opioid abuse is not a new discussion in dentistry; the July 2011 Journal of the American Dental Association featured a cover story on the topic. You can read more about the hearing here. ADEA will monitor the committee to see if there is any follow-up legislation or a potential study on the topic.

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