Monday, March 10, 2014

State Attorney's Message: Fighting Prescription Drug Abuse

By Mark A. Ober

“Nearly 15,000 people die every year of overdoses involving prescription painkillers. In 2010, 1 in 20 people in the US (age 12 or older) reported using prescription painkillers for nonmedical reasons in the past year. Enough prescription painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for a month.”  These statistics from the Centers for Disease Control paint a shocking picture of the dangers of prescription drug abuse. 

One of the tools available to my office in fighting this problem can be found in Chapter 893 of the Florida Statutes. Florida Statute § 893.03 establishes categories of drugs called schedules that are regulated under criminal law. § 893.03, Fla. Stat. Currently, more than 300 drugs are specifically listed in the schedules. Id. The schedules classify drugs based upon their potential for abuse and whether the drugs have accepted medical uses. Id. Although some drugs have “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States,” § 893.03(1), Fla. Stat., the schedules also contain drugs that can be obtained by a valid prescription from a physician.

Florida Statute § 893.13 regulates the possession and distribution of scheduled drugs and delineates what acts constitute criminal violations. This statute also makes the possession of certain drugs that are “lawfully obtained from a practitioner or pursuant to a valid prescription” noncriminal. § 893.13(6)(a), Fla. Stat. Some prescription drugs have a high potential for abuse and are sought by people with an addiction to these substances. The statute criminalizes certain acts such as possessing a blank prescription form or obtaining drugs through the use of fraud or forgery. § 893.13(7)(a), Fla. Stat. My office uses these statutes as well as others to try to combat the dangers of prescription drug abuse. 

Criminal prosecution alone cannot stop this crisis. The combined efforts of the entire community are needed. Every individual who legally possesses prescription drugs can help control how accessible these drugs are. In 2010, the Drug Enforcement Agency began the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. This program allows individuals to turn in unused or unwanted prescription medications so that the drugs can be disposed of safely by law enforcement. By 2012, this program had taken in more than 2 million pounds of prescription drugs.  Our local law enforcement agencies have been instrumental in coordinating these take-back events. In an effort to expand the availability of this disposal method, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and Tampa Police Department have installed permanent drug drop-off boxes. This makes the disposal of unused or unwanted drugs even easier. Too many lives have been destroyed by prescription drug abuse. Law enforcement and the public must work together to end this epidemic.