Drug Take Back Day to Fight Opioid Epidemic By Diverting Prescription Drugs

Saturday event aims to gather unused prescription drugs which can lead to overdoses

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April 27, 2018

Police departments across the nation will take part in the 15th biannual Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, collecting unused prescription drugs to help combat the opioid epidemic.

Take Back Day, an initiative of the Drug Enforcement Agency, has happened twice a year since 2011. During the event, law enforcement agencies offer a designated drop-off site where Americans can deposit their unused drugs, rather than allowing them to languish in medicine cabinets and potentially be stolen and abused.

Almost 4,500 state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies will run more than 5,600 collection sites on Saturday. That is an increase from the last Take Back Day, with an additional 300 agencies and sites joining the initiative.

The growth in participation may be driven by the success of last October's Take Back Day, when law enforcement collected more than 900,000 pounds of unused prescription drugs. Over the course of the program, the DEA has gathered up over nine million pounds of drugs.

This all matters because the diversion of prescription opioids is widely considered to be a major driver of America's opioid crisis. While individuals directly prescribed opioids overwhelmingly do not overdose on or grow addicted to their prescriptions, those who do abuse opioids report that they routinely obtain those drugs from a friend or relative.

It is hard to measure the precise impact of these drugs on overdose deaths, but 34 percent of opioid overdose deaths in 2016 were attributable to "natural and semisynthetic opioids," a category which includes prescriptible drugs like morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone.

Further, there is some evidence that individuals who abuse prescription opioids may switch to far more lethal heroin—often laced with fentanyl—when prescription drugs become harder to acquire or abuse. One recent study argues that the boom in heroin deaths, which increased fivefold between 2010 and 2016, is largely attributable to Purdue Pharmaceuticals making their popular OxyContin drug abuse-resistant. This, authors Evans, Lieber, and Power argue, caused a swift and deadly substitution of heroin for previously abused oxycodone.

"The more unused painkillers or controlled drugs we can help to remove from homes, the more potential lives will be saved. The home medicine cabinet is a frequent target of prescription drug abusers and often provides access to prescription medication. We need the help of the public to dispose of this unwanted source of abuse," said DEA Acting Administrator Robert W. Patterson.

Patterson's argument underscores the value of disposal. Indeed, disposing of drugs is such a significant part of the DEA's work that the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Barack Obama called it one of the four pillars of preventing prescription drug abuse.

Despite the importance of stopping drugs from being diverted, disposing of your unused prescriptions is surprisingly challenging. The Controlled Substances Act—the law that governs drug enforcement—dictates that the recipients of prescriptions cannot give their drugs away, even for their disposal or destruction.

Prior to the advent of Take Back Day, the EPA and the FDA recommended that people dispose of their prescriptions mixed with coffee grounds or kitty litter, in order to deter addicts from rifling through trash in search of drugs. It was because of this needlessly complex situation that the DEA began Take Back Day in the first place.

One of the law enforcement agencies participating in Drug Take Back Day is the newly organized DEA office in Louisville, Ky. The office oversees drug operations in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, the epicenter of the opioid epidemic. The office expects to run five collection sites in Louisville on Saturday, a representative told the Free Beacon.

"DEA is committed to making our communities safer by raising public awareness about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. The Prescription Drug Take-Back program will allow Americans to properly and safely dispose of their prescription medication which could otherwise be abused for non-medical purposes. This event is free and anonymous. Simply turn in your unused, unwanted, unneeded medication, no questions asked," D. Christopher Evans, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Louisville Field Division said

Cutting prescription drug abuse is a priority for the current administration, which also wants to reduce the number of actual opioid prescriptions being issued. The rate of opioid prescriptions has fallen about 20 percent since a 2012 peak. But President Donald Trump wants to see a further 30 percent decline, according to a senior White House official.

Those wishing to find a drug collection site can check, or call 800-882-9539.

Published under: Opioids