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Fighting painkiller abuse Congress needs to increase funding for prevention and treatment

The Obama administration's attention to prescription drug abuse deserves congressional support for increased funding. Otherwise, America should brace itself, because the number of overdoses is staggering.

Fatal overdoses from prescription drug abuse now exceed the combined toll from the crack epidemic of the 1980s and black tar heroin in the 1970s.

Gil Kerlikowske, White House director of national drug-control policy and former Buffalo police commissioner, recently announced plans to fight the growing abuse of prescription drugs. One step is to increase awareness among patients and health care providers of the dangers of painkiller abuse; another is by cracking down on "pill mills," and "doctor shopping."

Kerlikowske recently visited Buffalo and talked with editors and reporters following The News' series, "Rx for Danger," which chronicled the spreading abuse of prescription painkillers. His frustration with the skyrocketing abuse of those painkillers was palpable.

It's a shared frustration.

A few weeks ago, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., unveiled his proposed legislation to expand federal anti-racketeering laws to crimes involving prescription painkillers. Accidental drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in 17 states. That's ahead of car crashes, according to Kerlikowske. His announcement centered on Florida, with seven accidental overdose deaths each day, but New York, especially upstate, has also been hit hard by this epidemic.

Western New York has become the hot spot for the most-abused opioid painkillers, which include fentanyl, hydrocodone and oxycodone.

The Obama administration plan involves every state developing a prescription drug monitoring program and encourages information sharing. Thirty-five states already have such monitoring programs in place but, we'll add, they need to be effective.

The administration plan also recommends convenient ways to remove and dispose of unused and expired medications from homes, given that a number of prescription drug abusers obtained their drugs from friends or relatives.

And, importantly, the drug-control policy office will ask Congress to increase funding for drug prevention by $123 million and treatment by $99 million for 2012. The office wants to train primary health care providers and expand and improve specialty care for addiction.

The Food and Drug Administration also will require the makers of "extended-release and long-acting opioids" to work together to develop an education plan to help doctors and patients.

The Obama administration is taking an initiative to effectively combat this nation's increasing drug problem. Congress shouldn't hesitate to join the fight.

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