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Prescription Drug Overdose: State Laws
Selected State Legislative Strategies Governing Prescription Drug Abuse and Diversion in the US

Prescription Drug Overdose: State Laws

The drug overdose rate in the United States has been increasing rapidly since the early 1990s and is now considered an epidemic. Prescription drugs have been the primary contributor to the increase in drug overdose death rates. Misuse and abuse of such drugs contributes to these overdoses. This resource is designed to provide a picture of some of the legal and regulatory strategies states have used to address prescription drug misuse, abuse, and overdose.

Laws

Rx Bottle icon CDC selected seven types of laws addressing this issue and surveyed the laws of all 50 states and the District of Columbia to see if they had enacted them as of August 31, 2010.  CDC looked at both state statutes and regulations by state agencies.

Learn More about the Types of Laws

States

US Map iconStates vary widely in their selection of the number and type of laws to address prescription drug abuse.  Some have six of the seven types of laws; some have none. 

Learn More about the Laws of Each State

Timeline of Law Enactment

Over the past two decades, the number of states having one or more laws aimed at reducing prescription drug misuse, abuse, and overdose has increased.  Lawmaking in this area has steadily accelerated along with growing awareness of prescription drug abuse.

1970s: A few states enacted laws requiring physical examinations of patients before prescribing and imposing prescription limits.

1980s: More states enacted physical examination and prescription limit laws, while a few states began to require identification when picking up prescriptions for controlled substances, and others enacted laws to prohibit doctor shopping.

1990s: Laws were passed in multiple categories, especially physical exam laws, which were enacted by an additional eight states.

2000s: Half of US states adopted tamper-resistant prescription form laws, which was prompted by the passage of federal tamper-resistant form legislation in 2007. During this same decade, a small number of states introduced pain clinic laws and laws that provided immunity or mitigation at sentencing for individuals obtaining medical assistance during an overdose.

Cumulative number of states authorizing prescription drug abuse-related laws by type of law, United States, 1970-2010

Cumulative number of states authorizing prescription drug abuse-related laws by type of law, United States, 1970-2010

[ View text version of the graph ]

Each date used in the chart is the date the specific provision was first effective, and the chart includes laws enacted through August 31, 2010. When a state had multiple provisions within a single type of law, the graph reflects the provision with the earliest effective date. The original effective date could often not be determined for older laws.  In those cases, the laws were omitted from this figure.

This resource is a collaboration between CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control and CDC’s Public Health Law Program.

  • A statute is defined as a law enacted by a state legislative body and carrying binding legal force.
  • A regulation is a rule or order promulgated by an administrative agency of the executive branch of government.  
  • In contrast, guidelines are official policies adopted by government agencies that do not carry binding legal force.  Guidelines often convey an agency’s position on a matter or delineate acceptable practices for those regulated by the agency.

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Additional Resources

 
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