"This prescription drug problem doesn't know boundaries of race, or ethnicity, or economic class," the Director of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in an interview today on "The Situation Room."
Kerlikowske, who is better known as the nation's drug czar, said that Michael Jackson's death "is a wake-up call to the country about prescription drugs". He said that the death rate from drug overdoses in this country is greater than that for gunshot wounds. The latest data, according to Kerlikowske, put the number of drug overdoses "in the 30,000 range" in 2006.
Blitzer entered into the conversation of his own interview: "We look at these celebrities like Michael Jackson, Anna Nicole Smith, or Heath Ledger - the allegations of addiction - and it's going on in part because doctors are not doing what they're supposed to do," he said.
"There are doctors who abuse the law and abuse their patients," Kerlikowske said, although he was quick to point out that the majority of doctors are working within the law and are genuinely concerned about their patients. "There are a number of parts," he said. "There are patients who doctor shop. There are drugs that are taken out of extended care facilities or medicine cabinets. There's a whole list of things."
Blitzer pressed Kerlikowske on the issue of bad doctors: "How do you punish these doctors who just give prescriptions for really serious drugs they shouldn't be giving?" he asked.
"Well, the Drug Enforcement Administration does a very good job on that," Kerlikowske, who is the former police chief of Seattle, answered. "The thing that really looks bright is the prescription drug monitoring programs - 38 states now have laws; 33 have operations - that gives the public health services, and sometimes law enforcement, the ability to find out about doctors that are perhaps over-prescribing, and it also gives the opportunity to find out about patients who are going to multiple doctors."
"If you have money," Blitzer responded, staying on the subject of bad doctors, "you'll basically be able to find a doctor who's willing to write a prescription basically for almost anything. There are doctors who abuse the system to make a buck."
"Yes, but there are a lot of other ways these drugs, these powerful painkillers, these prescriptions, that are getting out into the hands of young people," the drug czar responded.
When asked by Blitzer how we stop the problem, Kerlikowske said that "we're advocates of the prescription drug monitoring programs where the states are passing these laws and we're going to work very closely to make sure they have the tools to put these into effect. The other is our media campaign, the Anti-Drug Youth Media Campaign. We ran a number of ads both in February of '08 and also in April of '09 to educate parents, look, be concerned about what's in your medicine cabinets."
Blitzer asked Kerlikowske if there is a lesson to be learned from Michael Jackson's tragic death. He answered: "If we can bring to the attention of the people the dangers of prescription drug abuse, I think there is some benefit to this country."
Kerlikowske's best advice from his rambling interview with Blitzer: "Talk to your kids."