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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, May 6, 2014

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, Drug Enforcement Administration, And High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) To Host Bay Area Prescription Drug Abuse Summit

When: May 7, 2014.

Where: Futures Without Violence, 100 Montgomery Street, Presidio of San Francisco.

Who: U.S. Attorney Haag, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, DEA, HIDTA, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, National HIDTA Director Mike Gottlieb, District Attorneys George Gascon (San Francisco), Ed Berberian (Marin), Mark Peterson (Contra Costa), Steve Wagstaffe (San Mateo), Gary Lieberstein (Napa), Board Presidents of the Medical Board of California, Pharmacy Board of California and Dental Board of California, The Partnership at DrugFree.org, UCSF, pharmaceutical CEOs, educators, pharmacists, medical insurers, coroners, physicians, local, state and federal law enforcement officials, policymakers, families and community members whose lives have been devastated by prescription drug abuse, and community members who have formed coalitions to address awareness, education and prevention efforts.

Agenda: Attached/Included.

Attorney General Eric Holder has recently stated that the rise in overdose deaths from heroin and prescription painkillers in the United States in recent years is an “urgent public health crisis.”

Prescription drug abuse has taken hold in every community and every state in the union. Governors across the country are facing the burgeoning issue of prescription drug abuse and the related resurgence of heroin, and like the Bay Area, are grappling with this public health crisis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified prescription drug abuse as an epidemic in the United States. According to the CDC, one in 20 people 12 years and older used prescription painkillers without a prescription in 2010. And more than 2.1 million people in the U.S. are addicted to prescription opioid painkillers.

Many people who misuse prescription drugs, particularly teens, believe these substances are safer than illicit drugs because they are prescribed by a healthcare professional and dispensed by a pharmacist. The number of unintentional overdose deaths from prescription pain relievers has soared in the United States, more than quadrupling since 1999. In 2010 nearly 60 percent of drug overdoses involved pharmaceutical drugs. Opioids (oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone) were involved in approximately 3 of every 4 pharmaceutical deaths.

Opioid addiction can lead to heroin addiction. As an addict’s tolerance for opioids increases, the habit becomes increasing and exponentially more expensive. At some point, heroin becomes the drug of choice for many because of its wide availability and far lower cost. A recent study concluded that 81 percent of heroin initiates mis-used prescription pain relievers before turning to heroin.

The Governor of Vermont recently dedicated his state of the union speech to the issue of heroin addiction. In Vermont, last year there were 21 fatal heroin overdoses, twice as many as the year before, and five times the number just five years ago. DEA and HIDTA will talk about the substantial uptick in heroin in the Bay Area and California – much of it driven by a voracious appetite for prescription drugs.

A few more disturbing statistics:

  • The number of prescriptions written for opioids has increased 10-fold since 1990.
  • There was a five-fold increase in treatment admissions for prescription painkillers between 2000 and 2010.
  • Between 2006 and 2010, heroin overdose deaths increased nationally by 45 percent. Heroin treatment numbers are up over 250% since 2000 and over 40% in the past year.
  • 69% of those who mis-used pain relievers obtained them from a friend or relative.
  • In Ohio, from 1999-2010, drug overdose deaths increased by 372%, and 45% of those involved prescription drugs.

Nationally, drugs overtook traffic accidents as a cause of death in 2009, and this trend continues. In Contra Costa County, accidental drug poisoning has been exceeding traffic accident fatalities in recent years. The majority of those overdoses involved prescription drugs. In 2013, for the first time in Marin County, the same is true.

Drug abuse is not a problem that law enforcement can solve alone. President Obama, through the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), released the 2011 Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Plan, which outlines the need for a multi-pronged approach involving education, tracking and monitoring, proper disposal of medicines, and enforcement. This is the reason for bringing experts in the Bay Area together on May 7th -- educators, doctors, pharmacists, pharmaceutical companies, researchers, policymakers, community activists, elected officials, local, state and federal law enforcement, practitioners in the rehabilitation world, the media, and others, to help tackle this challenging issue and highlight the absolute need for a focused effort in this area including prevention, awareness, treatment, and enforcement.

One significant challenge in the Bay Area is a lack of local statistics. Anecdotally we are all seeing prescription drug abuse in the Bay Area on the rise and our teenagers and young adults are increasingly becoming the new face of heroin addiction. One local rehab director with decades of experience in the field called the influx of prescription drug and heroin addicted young adults in the Bay Area a “tsunami.”

This gathering is intended to be the start of a movement to get in front of this issue in Northern California – to collect information, share best practices, develop ways to track and measure this growing phenomenon, and devise ways to contain this growing epidemic – before we are years down the road and more lives are lost or destroyed.

(Summit Agenda )