New Jersey National Guard unloading trucks with surrendered medications. Photo courtesy of the DEA.
The Drug Enforcement Agency’s National Prescription Drug Take Back Day brought in 985,392 pounds of medication on Oct. 24, 2020, marking the largest collection in one day since the initiative began, according to a DEA press release.
“Prescription drugs that are left unused in medicine cabinets are often highly prone to misuse and abuse,” DEA Special Agent in Charge Steven S. Whipple said in the press release. “That’s why it was great to see so many people participate in this year’s take back event by cleaning out their medicine cabinets and turning in their unused medications safely and anonymously.”
The collection of medication brought the total gathered to 13.7 million pounds since the initiative was launched in 2010. According to the press release, the DEA and 4,153 of its law enforcement and community partners set up 4,587 collection sites throughout the US, which included 33 Bureau of Indian Affairs sites.
According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 9.9 million Americans ages 12 and older misuse controlled prescription medications.
“Drug overdose deaths involving prescription opioid pain relievers have increased dramatically since 1999,” according to a research report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that from 1999 to 2018, close to 450,000 people died as a result of opioid overdoses, including prescribed and illicit opioids.
According to the CDC, the specific causes of these deaths can be traced to various factors, including medical providers increasingly prescribing opioids, the rampant use of heroin, and the illegal production of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. The DEA’s prescription drug take-back initiative was established to prevent the leftover or unused opioid medications and other prescribed medicines from falling into the hands of those who would abuse them.
The collection sites are open all year, and people are encouraged to use them to prevent the abuse or misuse of their leftover medications.
“This year’s event, with a record-setting 493-ton collection, is a sure sign that DEA’s Take Back Day events continue to provide a vital public service that keeps loved ones safe — an opportunity to rid homes of potentially dangerous unused, expired, and unwanted medications,” DEA Acting Administrator Timothy Shea said in the press release. “Every day is Take Back Day and we encourage the public to continue to address this urgent safety and public health issue by using the thousands of existing drop-off locations throughout the year.”
President Donald Trump officially declared the opioid crisis to be a public health emergency in 2017. Adding to the Obama administration’s prescription drug take-back initiative, Trump has enacted the Stop Opioid Abuse initiative. This aims to combat the opioid crisis by cutting down on the overprescription and abuse of opioids by educating Americans, including physicians, on their dangers; cutting down on the supply of illicit drugs through actions such as Operation Crystal Shield; and facilitating help for those with addictions through “evidence-based treatment and recovery support services.”
Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children.
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