What is so important about National Prescription Drug Take Back Day?
Heroin and cocaine conjure frightening associations of the terrible consequences of drug abuse. But an equally dangerous and more insidious form of drug abuse goes on all around us. Some of us may even be contributing to the problem without knowing it!
More Americans currently abuse prescription drugs than the number of those abusing cocaine, hallucinogens and heroin combined, according to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Abuse. The deaths of celebrities including Anna Nicole-Smith and Heath Ledger from accidental overdoses in recent years are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the toll prescription drug abuse is taking.
And, increasingly, prescription drug abusers are turning to heroin, which is less expensive and easy to obtain. The heroin epidemic, once thought of as an urban phenomenon, has overtaken the Northwestern District of Hampshire and Franklin counties and the town of Athol.
Dr. Ruth Potee talks about prescription drug abuse and the heroin crisis in the Northwestern District
According to the Centers for Disease Control, prescription drugs, including opioids and antidepressants, are still responsible for more overdose deaths than “street drugs.” And yet, two in five teens believe that prescription drugs are “much safer” than street drugs, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Three in 10 teens believe that prescription pain relievers are not addictive. Some 60 percent of teens who abused prescription pain relievers did so before the age of 15.
The fact is, a majority of teens obtained the drugs from family and friends, sometimes from their medicine cabinets without their knowledge.
Keeping prescription drugs out of the hands of children and teenagers is one of the most important objectives of National Prescription Drug Day, as is raising awareness of this growing public health crisis and ensuring the safety of our elder population. Helping elders clean out their medicine cabinets can help prevent accidental overdoses and the misappropriation of prescription drugs by personal care assistants or loved ones.
Another objective of Take Back Day is keeping harmful chemicals out of the environment. Unwanted and out-of-date drugs cannot be simply thrown in the garbage or flushed down the toilet. Pharmaceuticals are already present in some of the nation’s waterbodies, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The long-term consequences remain to be seen.
Oct. 29, 2011 marked the third time the Drug Enforcement Administration partnered with local law enforcement agencies and others, including the Office of Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan to collect unwanted drugs at secure locations and dispose of them properly. At the next Take Back Day, on April 30, more than 376,593 pounds (188 tons) of unwanted or expired medications were collected at 5,361 take-back sites in all 50 states. This was 55 percent more than the 242,000 pounds (121 tons) collected on the first Take Back Day in September, 2010. In New England, Massachusetts led the way, with some 12,354 pounds collected.
Currently, more than 7 tons of medications have been collected at Take Back Days and 17 permanent drug drop off boxes in the Northwestern District.
Join us at the next National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on April 26, 2014. Let's keep drugs out of the hands of children and teens – and out of the environment.