Attorney General Holder Announces New Drug Take-Back Effort to Help Tackle Rising Threat of Prescription Drug Addiction and Opioid Abuse
New DEA Policy Will Authorize Pharmacies, Hospitals to Serve as Authorized Drop-off Sites for Unused Medications
Calling prescription drug addiction an “urgent and growing threat” to our nation’s public health, Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday announced a new Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) regulation that would allow pharmacies, hospitals, clinics, and other authorized collectors to serve as authorized drop-off sites for unused prescription drugs. Under the new policy, long-term care facilities will also be able to collect controlled substances turned in by residents of those facilities, and prescription drug users everywhere will have permission to directly mail in their unused medications to authorized collectors.
Attorney General Holder said the new changes will help save lives and protect American families from the increased dangers of prescriptions drug misuse. In 2011 alone, more than half of the 41,300 unintentional drug overdose deaths in the United States involved prescription drugs, and hazardous opioid pain relievers led to about 17,000 of those deaths. Young people are especially susceptible to these dangers. The Attorney General noted that nearly four in 10 teens who have misused or abused a prescription drug have obtained it from their parents’ medicine cabinet.
“These shocking statistics illustrate that prescription drug addiction and abuse represent nothing less than a public health crisis,” the Attorney General said in a video message posted on the Justice Department’s website. “Every day, this crisis touches – and devastates – the lives of Americans from every state, in every region, and from every background and walk of life.”
The new policy announced Monday builds on existing take-back programs launched by the DEA. A recent take-back event coordinated by the DEA last April resulted in the safe return of 390 tons of prescription drugs at nearly 6,100 sites. Over the last four years alone, the DEA and other partnering organizations have taken in over 4.1 million pounds—or more than 2,100 tons—of prescription pills. The DEA’s next take-back event will be on Sept. 27, 2014.
In the video message, the Attorney General described the new policy as evidence of the department’s commitment to ending the national epidemic of prescription drug abuse that has already taken too many lives and hurt too many American families.
The complete text of the Attorney General’s video message is below:
“Prescription drug misuse and abuse is an urgent—and growing—threat to our nation and its citizens. According to a 2013 survey, roughly 6.5 million people ages 12 and older are current nonmedical users of prescription drugs. As recently as 2011, more than half of the 41,300 unintentional drug overdose deaths in the United States involved prescription drugs—and opioid pain relievers were involved in nearly 17,000 of those deaths. Nearly 110 Americans died every day that year from drug overdoses.
“And as we’ve learned from scientific studies, treatment providers, victims, and investigations, prescription drug abuse can easily lead to the abuse of heroin—an addiction that has become increasingly lethal. In fact, in the decade from 2002 to 2011, the annual number of drug poisoning deaths involving heroin doubled, making prescription opioids and heroin some of the most lethal substances in common use.
“These shocking statistics illustrate that prescription drug addiction and abuse represent nothing less than a public health crisis. And every day, this crisis touches – and devastates – the lives of Americans from every state, in every region, and from every background and walk of life.
“The Department of Justice has taken aggressive steps to fight back—by targeting the illegal supply chain; by disrupting so-called “pill mills”; and by expanding public health, education, and law enforcement efforts. But we also recognize that much of this work must start at home. Nearly four in 10 teens who have misused or abused a prescription drug have obtained it from their parents’ medicine cabinet.
“That’s why, today, I am announcing that we are expanding drug take-back efforts – by introducing new ways for people to safely dispose of old or unused prescription drugs. Through new DEA regulations, patients will be allowed to more easily join the fight against prescription drug abuse by dropping off their leftover medications at pharmacies, hospitals, clinics, and other “authorized collectors.” Beyond authorizing new drop-off sites, the new DEA rule will allow long-term care facilities to assist in the disposal of prescription controlled substances belonging to current or former residents. And most importantly, patients or their family members can mail their prescription controlled substances to an authorized collector using pre-paid mail-back packages that can be obtained right from their pharmacy, or from other locations like libraries and community centers.
“Drug take-back programs on a more limited scale have already proven effective. At a drug take-back event last April, Americans around the country turned in 390 tons of prescription drugs at nearly 6,100 sites coordinated by the DEA—and more than 4,400 state and local law enforcement partners. Over the last four years alone, the DEA and its allies have taken in over 4.1 million pounds—that's more than 2,100 tons—of prescription pills. Once collected, these medications are then responsibly destroyed to ensure that they don’t damage our environment by ending up in landfills or in the water supply. With these new regulations, and with continued take-back events—like the one scheduled in the coming weeks for September 27th—we hope to increase those numbers, and prevent more potentially harmful medications from being misused or abused by young people and others.
“As a lifelong member of America’s law enforcement community—as a former judge and U.S. Attorney—I have seen the devastating consequences of prescription drug abuse firsthand. And as Attorney General—and as a parent—I am committed to ending the national epidemic that has already stolen too many lives and torn apart too many families. I thank you for your help and your partnership in ensuring that we can continue to save lives and protect the futures of our young people.”