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The Role of Prescription Drug Laws in the Fight Against Prescription Drug Abuse

The abuse of prescription drugs have always been a problem in the United States since the 1970s. As the guardians of prescription drugs, physicians thus play a key role in the prevention of their misuse. So do laws, both on federal and state levels, that target prescription drug abuse, as well as people who prescribe and dispense controlled substances.

Federal Drug Legislation

The federal government began to regulate drugs at the start of the twentieth century, particularly in 1910 with opiate regulation and in 1919 through the alcohol-prohibiting Volstead Act, which continued to take effect until the 1930s. The most comprehensive federal drug law, which was called the Controlled Substances Act, was passed in 1970 and instituted a single system for the regulation of narcotic and psychotropic drugs, as well as established the legal framework for the creation of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 1973.

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Today, the anti-prescription drug abuse program of the federal government has an annual budget of over $2 billion, with more 5,000 special agents under its wing. The DEA is the primary agency policing the issuance and dispensing of prescription drugs and all controlled substances, its regulations affecting manufacturers, dispensers and distributors alike.

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Penalties for violations including jail time, fines, as well as loss of DEA licensure, which also means loss of the ability to prescribe controlled substances. Doctors who lose their state license may also lose their DEA registration, and the agency itself may investigate and actively pursue the arrest and prosecution of suspects.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has likewise taken measures to combat the worsening problem of prescription drug abuse. The Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act of 2007 grants the agency the right to oblige drug makers to create a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS) for drugs which have greater risks than benefits.

State Level Regulation

Since the 1970s, state governments have also been aggressively fighting prescription drug abuse through relevant legislation. Most states have general laws prohibiting obtaining drugs through fraudulent or deceitful ways, such as the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act of 1932 and the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. There are a few state laws that target behaviors like intentionally keeping information from physicians, as when people “prescription shop” from different doctors.

In certain states, patients must present an ID before they can get a prescription. In Maryland, New Mexico, Alaska and Washington specifically, people have some kind of immunity or get lower sentences when they ask for help for overdosing, whether for themselves or a different person. Other laws are created separately for physicians. In addition, the Federation of State Medical Boards’ model policy works to guide state medical boards when reviewing physicians’ pain management practices.