Opioid addiction is now being dubbed as one of the biggest public health problems in America. The surgeon general reported that in 2015 alone, 12.5 million Americans had abused prescription painkillers. With more than 650,000 prescriptions for opioids doled out each day, Chuck Rosenberg, acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), blamed the overabundance of these prescriptions on the current acceleration of substance abuse.
Rosenberg said that heroin and opioid abuse are ultimately the result of prescription addictions. “We know that 4 out of 5 new heroin users started on prescription pills, and most of the people who start on prescription pills get them out of someone’s medicine cabinet, get it ‘legitimately,” state Rosenberg.
With an average of 78 daily opioid related deaths, Rosenberg blamed both the doctors prescribing the painkillers and the ease of buying the drugs on the street. According to Rosenberg, the United States consumes 99 percent of the hydrocodone manufactured in the entire world, yet only constitutes 5 percent of the population.
Rosenberg is defending the DEA’s role in the substance abuse problem after Sen. Richard Durbin accused the DEA of flooding America with the pills. While the DEA can step in to put limitations on the manufacturing of the pills, Rosenberg pointed out that the DEA does not “regulate the practice of medicine.”
Rosenberg says public education can play a role in reducing the use of these addictive and dangerous drugs. In a joint effort with Discovery Education, the DEA is looking to educate children about opioid addiction through a STEM-based curriculum.
The DEA has also sponsored National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day which allows people to dispose of their unused prescriptions anonymously. Rosenberg said that a total of 1.6 million pounds of unused drugs were received during the two times the event took place.
Rosenberg spoke highly of the efforts from the men and women in the DEA but admitted that more help is needed to get the problem under control.