New Law Lets Pharmacies Take Back Unused Prescription Drugs

Starting next month, it will be easier to rid your home of unwanted narcotic painkillers. Calling prescription drug abuse “an urgent and growing threat to our nation and its citizens,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced this week that the Drug Enforcement Agency is loosening its rules to allow neighborhood pharmacies, hospitals and drug treatment centers to collect the unused drugs. The new policy builds on current take-back programs run by the DEA, including this fall’s national take-back event set for Sept. 27. You can find the nearest location at the DEA’s link. The expanded program also aims to stem the environmental damage from consumers who, for convenience sake, flush or trash the powerful, controlled substances, contaminating the soil and water supply in the process. In laying out what he called a crisis, Holder offered the latest in disturbing data: about 6.5 million people 12 years and older took prescription drugs for non-medical purposes in 2013.  And a 2011 study showed that more than half of the 41,300 accidental overdose deaths in the U.S. were from prescription drugs. “Nearly 110 Americans died every day — every day that year — of drug overdoses,” Holder said in his address. “Every day this crisis touches and devastates the lives of Americans in every state, from every region, and from every walk of life.” Law enforcement continues to try to gain ground on pill mills; other federal efforts involve stepping up public education about the epidemic. Yet, “much of this work must start at home,” Holder said. “Nearly four in 10 teens who have misused or abused a prescription drug have obtained it from their parents’ medicine cabinet.” Elaborating on the scale of the threat, Holder said that 390 tons of prescription medicines has been collected in the last four years of the DEA’s take-back events and law enforcement has destroyed some 4.1 million pounds of the opiate drugs. Studies have shown that opiate abuse often leads to cheaper heroin, the use of which has soared in recent years. The number of heroin overdose deaths doubled between 2002 and 2012, he said. The new drug take-back program is voluntary for the pharmacies and other collection participants, and some observers noted that the cost to destroy the drugs has yet to be addressed. But opiate addiction experts hailed the move as a step in the right direction. With the new regulations, patients or relatives can drop off the drugs or mail them to authorized collection agencies using prepaid return-mail packages available at pharmacies. Fully 70 percent of teen first-time prescription drug abusers reported they obtained the medications from someone they knew — friends or loved ones — by raiding their home medicine cabinets, the DEA reported. The new regulations, which kick in Oct. 9, pertain to designated controlled substances such as the opiates found in painkillers like OxyContin, depressants like Ativan, and stimulants such as Adderall. “This is big news and long overdue,” Dr. G. Caleb Alexander, co-director of the Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the New York Times. “It’s baffling that it’s so easy to get a prescription for opioids and yet so difficult to dispose of these drugs safely.”

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