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Press Release

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

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of California

SAN FRANCISCO – 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, 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 are joining together today for the Bay Area Prescription Drug Abuse Summit.

The event is being held at Futures Without Violence, 100 Montgomery Street, Presidio of San Francisco. Agenda attached.

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.”

As part of the presentations it was revealed that 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.

U.S. Attorney Haag stated: “The Department of Justice has made combatting prescription drug abuse a high priority. U.S. Attorneys across the country are working hand in hand with law enforcement and the community to break down silos and force the conversation among relevant industries and agencies to bring this epidemic under control. Today’s summit furthers that effort. Awareness is a key component in bringing the issue out into the open so that parents and young people understand the prevalence of these dangerous drugs, and the devastating effects when they are misused.”

“Prescription drug abuse is a public safety and public health issue,” stated co-host Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. “These drugs are highly susceptible to misuse and abuse, which can lead to addiction, accidental poisoning, or other grave consequences. Rates of prescription drug abuse and addiction in Alameda County as well as around the state and nation are alarmingly high, as are the numbers of tragic accidental overdoses due to these drugs. I applaud our Federal partners for their attention and dedication to addressing this epidemic.”

California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson made opening remarks: “Prescription drug abuse continues to be a major threat to the safety and wellbeing of our young people, and it comes with some unique challenges. We need to educate parents and grandparents, educators, health care providers, and communities about how to keep young people safe from the abuse of prescription drugs.”

Co-host and DEA Special Agent in Charge Jay Fitzpatrick added: “Prescription drug abuse continues to plague the nation at an alarming rate, crossing all age, gender, and socioeconomic boundaries. It is the fastest growing drug problem in America and has reached epidemic proportions. Not only will this summit provide us with an opportunity to learn the extent of the problem in our communities, but also allows us to create an important dialog as we work toward the common goal of combatting this serious public health and safety issue.”

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 CDC, one in twenty 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% of drug overdoses involved pharmaceutical drugs. Opioids (oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone) were involved in approximately three of every four 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% of heroin initiates mis-used prescription pain relievers before turning to heroin.

DEA and HIDTA addressed the substantial uptick in heroin in the Bay Area and California – much of it driven by a voracious appetite for prescription drugs. Co-host Mike Sena, HIDTA Director for Northern California said: “The uptick in the availability of prescription drugs on our streets and the resurgence of heroin on a large scale in Northern California is of great concern to law enforcement. It is essential that we focus our attention on enforcement, but equally important is raising awareness and providing education about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. We are hearing of too many young people descending into heroin when they can no longer obtain or afford prescription drugs. It is best to prevent their use of prescription drugs and make them aware of the dangers associated with this behavior.”

Michael Gottlieb, Director of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy spoke at the event. “The abuse of prescription drugs is having a devastating impact on public health and safety in communities throughout the Bay area and across the United States,” he said. “While there are no silver bullet solutions to this challenge, we know that every sector of our society - parents, patients, healthcare providers, law enforcement and manufacturers – each play a vital role in making our communities healthier and safer. The drug challenge is a public health issue, not just a criminal justice issue and by pursing a holistic response to this epidemic we know we can save lives.”

To address the threat of prescription drug abuse and diversion while also protecting legitimate access to these drugs for those suffering from pain, the Administration released Epidemic: Responding to America's Prescription Drug Abuse Crisis in 2011. This action plan provides a national framework for reducing prescription drug diversion and abuse by supporting education for patients and healthcare providers, recommending more convenient and environmentally responsible disposal methods to remove unused medications from the home, supporting the expansion of state-based prescription drug monitoring programs, and reducing the prevalence of pill mills and doctor shopping through enforcement efforts.

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.

A few more disturbing national statistics:

  • The number of prescriptions written for opioids has increased ten-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%. 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.

Drug abuse is not a problem that law enforcement can solve alone. This is the reason for bringing experts in the Bay Area together today -- 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 participants and panelists 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.”

U.S. Attorney Haag remarked: “The summit is intended to be the start of a movement to get in front of the 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 )



Updated November 18, 2014