DEA Official Outlines Dangers of Pharmaceutical Abuse, Internet Pharmacies


A banner of an eagle. UM photo by Pete

Miss. – According to the Partnership for a Drug Free America, two out
of five teenagers believe that prescription medications are “much
safer” than illegal drugs. One in five teens report abusing
prescription drugs to get high.

This trend is why Joseph T.
Rannazzisi advises parents to teach their kids about the proper use and
dangers of prescription drugs.

“We have to teach our kids that
all drugs can be dangerous,” said Rannazzisi, deputy assistant
administrator for the Office of Diversion Control at the U.S. Drug
Enforcement Administration. He spoke to University of Mississippi
pharmacy students and others Tuesday about the dangers of
pharmaceutical abuse and Internet pharmacies. His speech, in Fulton
Chapel, was titled “Pharmaceutical Abuse, the Internet, and Diversion
of Controlled Substances.”

“Non-medical use of prescription drugs ranks second only to marijuana as the most prevalent category of drug abuse,” Rannazzisi said. The No. 1 pharmaceutical used in America is hydrocodone, and in 2004 the U.S. consumed 99 percent of the hydrocodone used in the world, Rannazzisi said. The DEA is trying to reclassify hydrocodone to a more restrictive schedule to combat its misuse.

Another prescription drug that causes misuse problems is methodone.

“A lot of doctors don’t know how to prescribe methodone,” Rannazzisi said. “Kids and adults all over the U.S. are dying from methodone overdose.”

One reason for the misuse of methodone is that it is cheaper than other opiates, Rannazzisi said. Recently, the 40 mg dosage of methodone has been removed from pharmacies, and it is dispersed only in methodone clinics to deter abusers.

Rogue Internet pharmacies are a significant problem for the DEA, Rannazzisi said. The biggest problem with Internet pharmacies is that patients are never examined before receiving a diagnosis and prescription. Instead, many Web sites ask patients to e-mail their symptoms in for a “diagnosis.”

“You can’t prescribe based on a consultation form,” Rannazzisi said. “How does a Web site know that a doctor will approve the prescription when they’ve never seen the patient?”

Congress recently passed the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008. This legislation will require doctors to physically examine patients before prescribing, Rannazzisi said.

Rannazzisi began his career with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in 1986. He was appointed to his current position in January 2006. As deputy assistant administrator, he is responsible for overseeing and coordinating major diversion investigations, the drafting and promulgating of regulations, and establishing drug production quotas.

He earned a bachelor’s in pharmacy from Butler University and a Juris Doctorate from the Detroit College of Law at Michigan State University.

Rannazzisi’s speech was sponsored by the UM School of Pharmacy as the 2009 Charles W. Hartman Memorial Lecture. The Hartman Lecture was established at the university in 1973 to honor the late Charles W. Hartman, who was dean of the pharmacy school from 1961 until his death in 1970.

Former lecturers include U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration Mark McClellan, U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Trent Lott, and Leo Sternbach, who synthesized Valium and Librium. Rannazzisi was the 32nd Hartman lecturer.

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