Remarks of the Honorable David J. Hickton
United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania
At the Prescription Drug Abuse Summit - Afternoon Session
Good afternoon. I welcome and thank you for attending this Prescription Pill Abuse Summit. Special thanks to W & J for this beautiful facility. Thanks to our partners especially our host, District Attorney Gene Vittone, who has been tireless in his support of this effort.
And thanks to all of your for your concern and participation.
Your presence here is testament to your interest in addressing the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States - prescription drug abuse.
The non-medical use of prescription drugs contributes to nearly 40,000 deaths and almost $200 billion in health-care costs annually. Drug-induced deaths are the number one cause of injury death in America. More Americans are dying from drug-induced deaths than from traffic fatalities.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control has labeled prescription drug abuse "an epidemic."
According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, two-and-a-half times more Americans currently abuse prescription drugs than those using cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, and inhalants combined. And while youths and young adults, aged 12 to 25, are the most frequent abusers; this problem affects all age groups, all ethnic groups, men, women and children, and it is destroying lives and killing people.
That young people consider prescription drug abuse as a "low risk" way to get high is disturbing. And the fact that the majority of those 12 and older who abused pain relievers in the past year obtained them from friends and family for free, including from their home medicine cabinets, should be cause for outrage.
Today, together, we take a stand against the prescription drug epidemic in Western Pennsylvania. We have been and will continue to make prescription drug abuse one of our highest priorities by targeting the illegal supply chain at every level. Doctors, pharmacists, nurses, technicians and traffickers...be on notice...if you are illegally prescribing, dispensing or distributing prescription pills we are coming after you. The full force of the United States attorney's office, the DEA, the FBI, the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office and every municipal police department is resolved to identify and take down these criminals who threaten our community.
As evidence of our commitment in Western Pennsylvania, in the last six weeks alone:
- Peters Township Doctor Oliver Herndon pleaded guilty to illegally prescribing thousands of oxycodone pills to as many as 135 individual patients a day over more than a year.
- We shut down a heroin and oxycodone pipeline moving large quantities of these drugs from Detroit to Johnstown. Two of the defendants were recorded laughing about how addicted people will pay anything - even up to $150 - for a single oxycodone pill.
- We charged a nurse at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center who fraudulently obtained numerous hydrocodone pills.
- We obtained a guilty plea from a pharmacy technician in Erie, who admitted to stealing more than 80,000 hydrocodone tablets and altering the computer records to help hide the thefts.
- And, we added three new defendants to an indictment returned last summer charging eight individuals in the New Castle area for conspiring to distribute large amounts of oxycodone.
The Attorney General and District Attorney have a similar list for initiatives and I will not steal their thunder by reciting them, but rest assured we are committed, resolved and cooperating together on this problem.
Last year in Washington County, more than 50 deaths resulted from drug overdoses, with opioids responsible for the majority of these deaths.
In Allegheny County, there were four times as many drug overdose deaths as in Washington County. The problem exists in every other county in Western Pennsylvania.
The prescription pill epidemic cannot be solved by law enforcement alone.
It will take a concerted effort from all. We need to attack both the supply and demand for these illegal drugs. We must make a clear distinction between those who suffer from addiction and those predators who prey upon addicts and profit from the sale of illegal drugs. We must remove the stigma of drug addiction and show people that they can recover. We must develop new strategies which include better treatment options founded upon the recognition that addiction is a potentially deadly condition and a medical, and often, a mental health problem.
To respond to the pressing need to address addiction and illegal drug diversion in Western Pennsylvania, we organized this Prescription Drug Abuse Summit to discuss and confront all aspects of this problem and to bring awareness; to offer education; and to foster new ideas. That said, the U.S. Attorney's Office is resolved to give no quarter to those who get rich exploiting the sick and addicted and whose criminal behavior is a serious and life-threatening affront to the citizens of our community.
You are about to hear from experts at every level of the issue: doctors; pharmacists; policy makers; investigators; prosecutors; and even from a father who lost his youngest son to prescription drugs.
Let me conclude by thanking you for your participation today. Your work at the local level plays a critical role in addressing the prescription drug problem in our region. With your continued support and commitment, we will continue to make a safer, healthier Western Pennsylvania.