TRENTON – The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee unanimously approved legislation today sponsored by Senator Barbara Buono that would designate every March as “Prescription Drug Abuse Awareness Month” in New Jersey.
“More Americans abuse prescription drugs than abuse cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants and heroin combined,” said Senator Buono, D-Middlesex. “There is a perception about pharmaceuticals that they are somehow safer than street drugs because they are prescribed by a doctor. If we want to reduce prescription drug addiction, people need to know that these drugs can be just as dangerous and just as addictive.”
Senator Buono’s resolution, SJR-33, would require the Governor to issue a proclamation each year calling upon public officials and the citizens of the State of New Jersey to observe the month of March of each year with activities and programs aimed at increasing awareness about the dangers of prescription drugs when used outside of a doctor’s orders.
Senator Buono noted that several recent studies have shown an alarming increase in prescription drug abuse in the United States. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University reports that the number of people addicted to prescription drugs nearly doubled between 1992 and 2003, going from 7.8 million to 15.1 million Americans. CASA also analyzed drug-related visits to emergency departments in 2002 and said that 23% of all drug-related admissions and 30% of all drug-related emergency room deaths were due to prescription drug use.
“Prescription drug addiction is getting out of control. Perhaps most alarming is that we’re seeing the greatest growth among teenagers. A greater effort must be made to inform young people the drugs they find in the medicine cabinet can be addictive, too,” explained Senator Buono.
Senator Buono said that the CASA study showed that while adults abusing prescription drugs grew 81% between 1992 and 2003, teenagers using such drugs jumped a staggering 212%. Additionally, a 2005 study by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America showed that nearly one in five American teens has used prescription drugs to get high.
“I think that the appeal prescription drugs have for teens in twofold. First, they see the pills in their family medicine cabinet and assume that these drugs are safe to use. Second, kids can get their hands on them far more easily than street drugs,” explained Senator Buono.
Senator Buono continued, “It’s a challenge with no simple solution. Parents, educators and the community all have to work together to stem the rising tide of prescription drug abuse among teens.”
Senator Buono was also the prime sponsor last session of “Jason’s Law” which would have established a statewide prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse public awareness campaign. The bill was approved by committee but did not pass both houses by the end of the session.