02/15/2012 06:31 pm ET

Prescription Drug Abuse Crackdown Hits CVS and Drug Wholesaler

A crackdown by the Drug Enforcement Administration against two big health care companies this month signals that the Obama administration is putting muscle behind its effort to combat prescription drug abuse.

The DEA took action against CVS Caremark, which runs the second-largest U.S. pharmacy chain and Cardinal Health, a major drug distributor in Florida earlier this month, both of which the DEA says dispensed a "staggering" amount of Oxycodone, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. Four pharmacies, including two CVS locations, have reportedly been suspended.

CVS responded by saying it had already moved to cut off doctors they suspected of writing questionable prescriptions.

Tough actions against all parties involved in the illegal trade of prescription medicines is due, said Hughes Melton, a family physician from Lebanon, Va., who has specialized in the treatment of patients who abuse prescription drugs. "This is becoming more than just a doctor-patient issue. It's becoming a public health issue," he said.

The Drug Enforcement Administration is ramping up efforts to punish doctors, drugstores and others as part the Obama administration's wider effort against prescription drug abuse, which it declared an “epidemic” last year. The White House outlined a comprehensive, multi-agency strategy to combat prescription drug abuse in 2011 and has backed a plan to require physicians to receive special training in order to prescribe painkillers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, narcotic painkiller overdoses kill 40 people a day.

But the crackdown isn't without controversy. The enforcement strategies have coincided with low supplies of Adderall and other medicines to treat ADHD and have prompted concern that federal authorities are making it harder for people who need medicines to get them. Even the Food and Drug Administration has faulted DEA's approach, saying it is exacerbating Adderall and Ritalin shortages, which the law enforcement agency disputes.

Yul Ejnes, a doctor in Cranston, Rhode Island, and chairman of the American College of Physicians's board of regents, says he is not aware that the administration's strategy is creating obstacles for patients who use pain medicine. The intensified attention to prescription drug abuse does remind physicians they should be taking prudent steps to determine whether their patients are abusing their drugs or diverting prescribed medicines for illegal use, Ejnes said.