WASHINGTON — A Senate subcommittee pressed the Obama administration on Tuesday for answers to deal with the prescription drug overdose crisis.
Used properly, the drugs aren't a problem, said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who chaired the hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on crime and terrorism. "But their abuse poses a serious and growing threat to our communities and young people."
Gil Kerlikowske, the administration's director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the pills were popular because they were easy to get and there was a "low perception of risk."
Last month, the White House announced plans to crack down on prescription drug abuse, including putting a priority on ridding the nation's medicine cabinets of outdated, unused medications. Kerlikowske said that nearly 75 percent of people who abused prescription drugs reported that they got painkillers from friends or relatives.
A national effort to round up excess drugs took in more than 188 tons of unwanted or expired medication in April.
Michele Leonhart, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the agency planned to continue the effort until the government came up with a more consistent system. The effort this year had 5,361 take-back sites in all 50 states.
In October, President Barack Obama signed legislation to make it easier for consumers to get rid of unused medication, but Kerlikowske and Leonhart's agencies have yet to write the rules to carry out the law. Leonhart said the administration hoped to have them finalized by the beginning of next year.
Kerlikowske said the administration was encouraging states to develop prescription drug-monitoring programs — statewide databases that track controlled substances. Several states — including Florida, Maryland and Georgia — passed legislation recently calling for drug databases. They join the dozens of states that have programs in place.