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Prescription drug abuse a target for Mass. lawmakers

Massachusetts lawmakers have introduced two bills in Congress during the past week aimed at curbing high rates of prescription drug abuse.

Representative Edward Markey is sponsoring legislation, with others, that would require tighter control of drugs that include hydrocodone, an opioid in Vicodin and dozens of other brand-name products. The bill would move such products from Schedule III classification to Schedule II under the Controlled Substance Act, reflecting a “high potential for abuse.”

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“Prescription drug abuse threatens families in Massachusetts and across the country with no regard for income, education, or political party,” Markey said in a press release. “Congress needs to step up and take action to help fight the epidemic of prescription drug abuse sweeping the country.”

On Friday, Representative William Keating announced legislation that would require more prescription painkillers to be sold in tamper-proof forms.

Opioid pain pills designed to release a drug over time can be crushed and snorted to produce a more intense high. The maker of OxyContin introduced a tamper-resistant form in 2010 that some say has significantly reduced its profile as a favorite among those who abuse the drug. But applications for generic drugs without such protections are moving forward.

The Stop the Tampering of Prescription Pills Act would require drugs submitted for review by the US Food and Drug Administration to include tamper controls if a comparable drug already on the market uses them. And if the maker of an approved drug begins to sell it in a tamper-resistant form, then other drugs without such controls would no longer be considered comparable or equally safe.

Keating, who was joined by Massachusetts colleagues in sponsoring the bill, said in a press release that the bill would do what “the FDA should be doing on its own.”

“Because they are not, we are ready to act,” he said.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in February that fatal overdoses grew nationally for the 11th consecutive year in 2010, to 38,329, driven by prescription drug abuse. In Massachusetts, overdoses killed 738 people that year, twice as many as motor-vehicle deaths.

Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at cconaboy@boston.com. Follow her on Twitter @cconaboy.
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