Prescription drug overdose is focus of congressional briefing

Psychologists and policymakers examine scope of problem and federal and state responses.

On April 3, 2014, the American Psychological Association (APA) along with the Injury and Violence Prevention Network, American College of Preventive Medicine, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, Safe States Alliance and Trust for America’s Health in conjunction with the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse, hosted a congressional briefing on prescription drug overdose. The briefing provided a broad overview of the scope of the problem, federal response to the crisis and state-level intervention strategies that have been implemented. In attendance were more than 80 congressional staffers, and representatives from various federal agencies, professional associations and advocacy groups.

In the opening remarks, Richard Hamburg, the deputy director of Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), highlighted findings from a 2013 TFAH report showing that between 1999 and 2010, the number of drug overdose deaths, which are largely due to prescription drugs, doubled in 29 states, tripled in 10 states and quadrupled in four states, with the highest overdose death rates occurring in the Appalachian and Southwest regions. The report also called for improved prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs), access to services for those dealing with abuse and addiction issues, responsible prescribing practices and improved public education. 

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., cofounder of the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse and widely known for his work addressing prescription drugs, described how U.S. drug overdose deaths now outnumber motor vehicle accident deaths. He advocated for a comprehensive, coordinated, holistic approach such as the Operation UNITE project in Kentucky that includes undercover officers to get drugs off the streets, treatment for individuals and support for their families and friends, and public education on the dangers of prescription drugs. 

Ileana Arias, PhD, the principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a clinical psychologist, pointed to two important factors driving the epidemic of opioid abuse: patients receiving opioids from multiple prescribers and providers engaging in inappropriate prescribing practices (e.g., regularly writing prescriptions for high daily doses of opioids). She expressed the need for uniform, state mandated PDMPs that use real-time data, to be required for physicians and integrated into electronic health records. She described how New York State saw a 10 percent decrease in opioid prescriptions and a 75 percent decrease in individuals receiving multiple prescriptions after the state implemented mandated PDMPs.

Terry Cline, PhD, the Commissioner of Health for Oklahoma and also a clinical psychologist, indicated that overdose deaths are “just the tip of the iceberg”: that for every death there are many more hospital treatment admissions, emergency room visits, people who abuse or are dependent on prescription drugs and nonmedical users. Thus, his state is one of 27 that have accepted the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials “15 x 15 Challenge” to reduce prescription drug misuse and deaths by 15 percent by 2015. In Oklahoma, this plan involved improving access to PDMP data, distributing opioid prescribing guidelines, allowing first responders to administer naloxone (which blocks the effects of opioids in the event of an overdose), limiting hydrocodone refills and a governor-led public media campaign.  

Additional speakers were Van Ingram, the executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy and former Kentucky chief of police, who discussed Kentucky state legislative efforts targeting the problem, and former Congresswoman Mary Bono, the cofounder of the aforementioned Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse Caucus, who delivered a personal story about her son’s struggle with OxyContin addiction.  

APA’s sponsorship of this congressional briefing is part of the association’s advocacy efforts for CDC’s injury prevention research activities. For more information please contact Craig Fisher of the APA Science Directorate’s Government Relations Office.