WASHINGTON — The Bush administration on Monday announced a new effort to fight illegal diversion and abuse of painkillers, sedatives and other prescription drugs, a problem that has grown over the last decade.
Officials said they would boost the number of state prescription monitoring programs, which can detect "doctor shoppers" who redeem prescriptions from multiple physicians.
They also would target Internet pharmacies that provide controlled substances illegally. Web-based technology would help with identifying, investigating and prosecuting pharmacies.
"Criminals who divert legal drugs into the illegal market are no different from a cocaine or heroin dealer peddling poisons on the street corner," said Karen Tandy, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The effort was announced by officials from the DEA, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Officials also plan expanded education and training on appropriate prescribing and procedures for physicians.
An estimated 6.2 million Americans abused prescription drugs in 2002, officials said. Emergency-room visits related to abuse of narcotic pain relievers have increased 163% since 1995, they added.
"The nonmedical use of prescription drugs has become an increasingly widespread and serious problem in this country, one that calls for immediate action," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said in a statement.