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

Prescription drug abuse is an ongoing problem in America which the government has been trying to control 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, there are more than 5,000 special agents under the federal government’s anti-prescription drug abuse program, with an annual budget of more than $2 billion. The DEA is the main agency tasked to police the issuance and dispensing of prescription drugs and other controlled substances, and all involved – from manufacturers to dispensers to distributors – are affected by its regulations.

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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 have lost their state license could lose their DEA registration too, and the agency itself can investigate suspected violators and push for the arrest and prosecution.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also joined the battle against prescription drug abuse. Through the Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act of 2007, the agency requires drug companies to come up with a risk and mitigation strategy (REMS) for products that carry more risks than benefits to consumers.

State Level Regulation

On the state level, the government has also been actively fighting prescription drug abuse with relevant laws and programs. In most states, there are general laws that prohibit obtaining drugs through deceitful or fraudulent means, such as the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 and the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act of 1932. A number of state laws target behaviors such as deliberately holding information from doctors, as when patients “shop” for prescriptions from different physicians.

In some states, an ID required before a patient is given prescriptions. Particularly in Alaska, New Mexico, Washington and Maryland, people are somehow immune from prosecution or have reduced sentences when they seek emergency help for themselves or another individual. Other laws apply to doctors. Moreover, the Federation of State Medical Boards’ have created a model policy that can be used by state medical boards as a guide as they evaluate doctors’ pain management practices.