The promised crackdown on the pills

I’ve had some calls from reporters on the White House plan to make the abuse of diverted pharmaceuticals a major target for drug enforcement. The general tone of the reporters’ questions has been: “Why don’t they focus on something more important?”

Actually, this looks like a good move to me.

The surge in the abuse of prescription medications, and especiall the narcotic analgesics, over the past decade has been really astonishing, with survey-reported initiation rates at seven or eight times their early-90s levels. Diversion doesn’t usually carry with it the same level of organized criminal activity, disorder, or market-related violence as the street sale of cocaine, or the environmental damage of manufacturing methamphetamine. But the users can get just as hooked as those buying strictly illicit drugs.

Most importantly, though, there’s some low-hanging fruit in the diversion area. The internet pharmacies are certainly violating federal law, and just as certainly haven’t been getting any enforcement attention. A few well-publicized prosecutions will probably make most of them fold their tents.

There are some complicated issues around doctor-shopping and script-kiting, which are the other major sources of diverted pills. The trick is to make life harder for the scammers without making it harder for the legitimate patients.

But it’s good to see the drug czar’s office focusing, for once, on a real problem where there might be some real solutions.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

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  1. Drug Czar's efforts on prescription drugs

    Mark Kleiman comments on the White House plan to make the abuse of diverted pharmaceuticals a major target for drug enforcement .

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