The Drug Enforcement Agency collected a record-breaking 949 thousand pounds of unused prescription drugs on Saturday, the agency's 15th semi-annual Drug Take Back Day.
Nearly 5,000 law enforcement agencies across nearly 6,000 collection sites participated in the event, breaking the DEA's past participation records in collecting and destroying almost 475 tons of drugs.
Drug Take Back Day was first conceived of in 2010, in response to the skyrocketing rate of prescription drug consumption in America—as of that year, there were 81.2 prescriptions per 100 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Under federal law, it is illegal for individual prescription recipients to give their prescriptions away, even for disposal purposes. Prior to Drug Take Back Day, the CDC had recommended that users dispose of their unneeded prescription drugs by covering them in coffee grounds, to render them unappetizing to would-be thieves or addicts.
To mitigate this issue, the DEA implemented a program by which, twice a year, tribal, local, and state law enforcement partners would anonymously collect unused drugs from their communities for incineration. At this, Take Back Day has clearly succeeded: the DEA claims to have collected just under 10 million pounds of drugs since 2010.
This collection has become vitally important as the opioid overdose epidemic surges in America. In one survey, a majority of those who abused pain relievers self-reported obtaining their drugs from a friend or relative, who likely obtained the same drugs from a prescription, and then gave away or sold their unused pills.
"Today we are facing the worst drug crisis in American history, with one American dying of a drug overdose every nine minutes. An unprecedented crisis like this one demands an unprecedented response—and that's why President Trump has made this issue a priority for this administration," said Attorney General Jeff Sessions in announcing the results of Take Back Day.
States with the highest rates of drug overdose deaths were also home to the most aggressive drug collection, more or less. California and Texas, both of which had high rates of drug overdose, also saw substantial numbers of drugs turned in last Saturday.
Still, there is work to be done. Some states, like Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, had high rates of drug overdose death, but saw fewer drugs turned in than their similarly situated peers. DEA Acting Administrator Robert W. Patterson emphasized the importance of every American working to combat the scourge of opioid overdose death.
"National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is a day for every American, in every community across the country, to come together and do his or her part to fight the opioid crisis—simply by disposing of unwanted prescription medications from their medicine cabinets," Patterson said.