WASHINGTON, DC—Pledging to help "the millions of elderly Americans who can't get through the day without popping pills or shooting up insulin," President Bush announced Monday that he is committed to wiping out prescription-drug use among seniors.
"Nearly three million of our nation's senior citizens are hopelessly hooked on substances like Norvasc and Cardizem CD," Bush said. "In the past, we as a nation have enabled such addiction through the billions of dollars we give to programs like Medicare, but this has got to stop."
To help combat the problem, Bush is proposing stricter regulations for both doctors and pharmacists.
"Right now, drugs like Donepezil and Vasotec can be obtained with little more than a single visit to the doctor. This can no longer be allowed to go on," Bush said. "We must attack the problem at the source: the HMO-backed medical professionals who prescribe, or 'deal,' cheap prescription drugs. If we crack down on them, seniors will have a lot harder time getting their fixes."
According to a recent report by the National Institute On Drug Abuse, as many as 1,800,000 Americans over the age of 65 may be dependent on Medicare-provided prescription drugs. Bush warned that the actual number of habitual users may be even higher.
"Surprising as it may be, young people are not the ones doing most of the prescription drugs," Bush said. "Seniors are responsible for a shocking 70 percent of Amiodarone abuse in this country. Nitroglycerine use among the elderly has reached similarly epidemic proportions. Because such substances are obtained legally, compounded with the clouded judgment which results from drug use, many of these addicts aren't even aware they have a problem. It's up to our government to step in and break the cycle."
Claire Lakewood, director of Partnership For A Prescription-Drug-Free America, said the cycle of abuse is hard to break if seniors don't want to be helped.
"Older Americans tend to give in to peer pressure," Lakewood said. "They just do what their doctor tells them because they want to 'be cool' or 'live,' and win their doctor's approval. They also want to fit in with all their other elderly friends, who, no doubt, are doing these prescription drugs, too."
Fortunately, prescription-drug addicts will not have to conquer their addictions alone. Bush said his plan will emphasize rehabilitation over punishment.
"Our only goal is to provide help to those in need," Bush said. "Locking up these seniors would be cruel, costly, and, in the long run, counterproductive. Treatment and counseling is the only real answer."
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson said his department is taking steps to help the drug-addicted. Outpatient treatment centers will be established at local senior centers, he said, and a 40-page booklet titled "Hugs, Not Dronabinol" will guide homebound seniors through the difficult road to clean living.
"Let's kick drugs out of our nursing homes and senior centers once and for all," Thompson said.
As part of Bush's anti-prescription-drug effort, a PSA campaign will soon be launched. The first such ad will feature "Sammy The Senior," a cartoon octogenarian kicking up his heels with the aid of a walker, accompanied by the slogan, "I've Got Better Things To Do Than Take Prescription Drugs!"
Hazel Tenney, a 72-year-old Tulsa, OK, resident, is among the many older Americans now questioning their drug use.
"Every day, for nearly seven years, I've taken Hydralazine to treat my high blood pressure," Tenney said. "But after hearing what President Bush said, I threw my pills away. Today, I'm feeling short of breath and dizzy, but if I can just make it through these withdrawal symptoms, with God's help, I will finally be drug-free."