Q & A: Rx Take Back Day

Q: What is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day?

A: For nearly two decades, prescribed pain pills have fueled the nation’s opioid crisis. According to combined data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual average 10.7 million Americans misused controlled prescription pain relievers in the past year. The path to addiction can start with pain medication legitimately prescribed to a patient, often due to something as routine as a dental procedure or strained muscles. Some patients become addicted to their prescription opioid pills and sometimes, pills are misused or even stolen by a family member, neighbor or co-worker. The 2017 survey revealed half of respondents who misused prescription drugs obtained them from family and friends. Removing unneeded pain pills out of home medicine cabinets can help save lives. Twice a year, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) works with local law enforcement and authorized pharmacies to provide free-of-charge collection sites in local neighborhoods across the country. Take Back Days ensure that prescription medications stay out of the wrong hands, keep them out of landfills and prevent accidental poisonings, drug addiction or overdose deaths. At the 16th Take Back Day last October, the DEA organized 5,839 collection sites and collected more than 900,000 pounds of prescription medicine. That’s more than 457 tons of drugs that were diverted from theft, misuse and polluting the environment. Since the first national collection in 2010, the DEA has collected nearly 11 million pounds. These numbers speak volumes and reflect the merits of National Take Back Day as a vital tool to protect public safety and public health.

The 17th National Take Back Day starts at 10 a.m., on Saturday, April 27, 2019. I encourage all Iowans to mark your calendar and take advantage of this free, anonymous and convenient opportunity to safely and legally dispose of expired, unused and unneeded prescription medicine. To find an authorized collection site, contact the DEA Office of Diversion Control’s Registration Call Center at 800/822–9539 or visit http://takebackday.dea.gov and enter a city, county, state or zip code to find the location most convenient for you.

Q: What else is being done to address substance abuse and the opioid crisis?

A: The opioid epidemic is contributing to a decline in life expectancy in the United States. On average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also reported the number of drug overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription medicine and illicit opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl) was five times higher in 2017 than in 1999, resulting in 47,000 overdose deaths in 2017. As then-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I led bipartisan legislation to boost resources for local responders with passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 (CARA). It was the first major federal law to address drug addiction in four decades. On top of that, I steered a dozen more bills through the U.S. Senate last year to provide federal grants to help local communities tackle the opioid epidemic and save lives. Now signed into law, these measures will improve transparency tools and track prescribing data to help crack down on pill mills. Among other new tools, federal law now requires HHS to collect Medicaid data on substance abuse disorders to help track opioid use; nurse practitioners and physician assistants are covered by my Physician Payment Sunshine Act to shed light on all prescribers who receive payments from opioid manufacturers; rural Americans have expanded access to telehealth services for substance abuse treatment; first responders may receive better training to help overdose victims; and, family-focused residential treatment facilities will help keep kids out of foster care and with their parents.

These new resources are working. In fact, the Department of Justice recently announced a sweeping law enforcement crackdown on 60 medical professionals across five states who were charged with illegally prescribing and distributing opioid medications. The prescribers and pill fillers put as many as 32 million pain pills in the hands of patients, paving the way to addiction, overdose or even death. The first-of-its-kind federal investigation partnered with public health officials to help the patients harmed by the rouge prescribing supply chain.

Here in Iowa, a glimmer of good news recently was reported by the Iowa Department of Public Health. In 2017, 206 deaths in Iowa were attributed to opioid misuse. Preliminary data shows opioid-related deaths in Iowa dropped last year to 137. One life lost to an overdose death is one too many. That’s why we must continue supporting efforts underway, including action by anti-drug community coalitions who are on the ground implementing enforcement, prevention, treatment and recovery efforts in neighborhoods across the state. The federally-funded Midwest Counter Drug Training Center located at Camp Dodge in Johnston trained 824 law enforcement officers in 2018 to properly administer the antidote for opioid overdoses. The Trump administration has awarded $1.5 billion in federal grants to State Opioid Response teams to address opioid abuse, reduce demand and cut off the flow of illicit drugs. We’ve got a long road ahead to stem the tide of addiction. Raising public awareness in households, schools and the workplace is as important as ever.

Iowans who are struggling with addiction may contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) online to locate local behavioral health treatment providers here. Personal information provided for the search locator is kept confidential and anonymous. Or, 24/7 treatment referral and information is available by calling the National Helpline at 800/662-HELP.