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A new Senate report highlights the growing problem of prescription drug abuse, calling into question the conventional wisdom that drug cartels in Latin America should be the major focus of US drug policy, The Christian Science Monitor reports.

According to the report from the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, the Office of National Drug Control Policy views prescription drug abuse as the nation’s fastest growing drug problem. The report states that overdose deaths from prescription painkillers now outnumber deaths involving heroin and cocaine combined, accounting for 20,044 of 36,450 overdose deaths in the US in 2008. The number of people seeking treatment for addiction to legal opiates increased 400 percent between 2004 and 2008.

Prescription drug abuse is also leading to increased violent robberies of pharmacies, making it a security issue as well as a health issue.

Use of marijuana and cocaine appears stable. The findings in the report indicate that Latin American drug cartels are less important than they once were in fueling drug abuse in the United States, the newspaper notes. They are not major suppliers of prescription drugs; a government survey found 70 percent of people abusing prescription drugs got their pills from a relative or friend.

“The epidemic raises the tricky question of just how many resources the US should continue putting into international drug enforcement in Latin America, when it’s clear that the more pressing challenges facing the country lie within its own borders and its domestic laws regarding pharmaceutical drugs,” the article states.


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