New National Drug Abuse Strategy Emphasizes Prevention

pillsOn May 11, the Obama administration unveiled its 2010 National Drug Control Strategy to reduce illicit drug use in America. The new policy places a greater emphasis on prevention and treatment in the fight against substance abuse. Among its provisions, the strategy calls for strengthening community-based programs to prevent drug abuse, integrating drug abuse treatment into healthcare, and expanding its use in community health centers.

Another key aspect of the strategy involves increasing drug screening and early interventions before patients become truly addicted. Drug testing offers one option for detecting substance use. Although the effectiveness of drug testing has long been a subject of debate, and the use of drug testing kits on juveniles remains controversial, the tests are still widely used: A report by research firm BCC Research states that the global market for “drugs of abuse” testing was an estimated $2 billion by the end of 2008. The market is expected to reach $2.6 billion by 2014. Companies such as PharmChem and Psychemedics Corporation are among the companies that provide drug testing services.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse counts prescription medications among “drugs of abuse.” OneMedPlace reported last month that hospitalizations related to prescription drug abuse increased significantly from 1999 to 2006. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, prescription drugs are the second most abused type of drugs among people ages 12 to 17, behind marijuana. Part of the problem is easy access to drugs, whether through the illegal practice of “doctor shopping,” online pharmacies that don’t require prescriptions, or physicians who are willing to write a prescription the patient doesn’t need. As we reported last month, some life-science companies are getting creative, manufacturing devices that restrict access to medications or formulating drugs with lower abuse potential. The White House has its own opinion on the matter: One provision of the 2010 National Drug Control strategy proposes the increased use of prescription monitoring databases to identify doctors who are over-prescribing painkillers.

Improper drug disposal also plays a role in prescription drug abuse. Medications that are tossed in trash cans may wind up in someone else’s hands. Drug take-back programs and disposal events, such as the roundup taking place on May 22 in Corvallis, Oregon, offer consumers the opportunity to safely dispose of their unused and unwanted medications. To learn more about the issue of improper drug disposal, read our previous post on the subject: Where Do All Those Unused Medications Go?

Once addiction (to any type of drug) has taken hold, the patient still has options. Treatment centers such as PHC, Inc., OptimumCare Corporation, and Ardent Health Services provide substance abuse services designed to help patients free themselves from addiction. And although the idea may sound strange, patients may one day be able to use drugs to fight drugs: InterveXion Therapeutics is developing monoclonal antibodies to treat substance abuse.

U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske believes that the drug war in America has failed. Do you think the new national strategy will make a difference? Please post your opinion in comments.

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