Uptick in purging medicine cabinets

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Prescription drug takeback day reaps massive results

By Carol A. Clark

The Drug Enforcement Administration’s second National Prescription Drug Take-Back event April 30 turned in more than 376,593 pounds (188 tons) of unwanted or expired medications for safe and proper disposal at the 5,361 take-back sites that were available in all 50 states. This is 55 percent more than the 242,000 pounds (121 tons) the public brought in during last September’s event.

Los Alamos police joined forces with the DEA for the second year of the event.

“The DEA developed this program to offer people a responsible way to dispose of their expired prescription medication,” Chief Det. Oliver Morris said, adding that expired prescription medications often accumulate in the home or from a loved one who has died.

To ensure that pills are properly disposed of rather than entering the groundwater from being washed down sinks and flushed down toilets, Det. Paige Early and Cpl. Brian Schamber operated a pill drop-off booth in the Los Alamos Medical Center parking lot.

“Our community dropped off 117 pounds of unwanted and expired medications during last month’s prescription drug take-back event,” Capt. Randy Foster said Tuesday.

Four days after last fall’s national take-back day, the United States Congress passed legislation amending the Controlled Substances Act to allow the DEA to develop a process for people to safely dispose of their prescription drugs. DEA immediately began developing this process after President Barack Obama signed the Safe and Secure Drug Disposal Act of 2010 on Oct. 12.

“The amount of prescription drugs turned in by the American public during the first two Take-Back events is simply staggering – 309 tons – and represents a clear need for a convenient way to rid homes of unwanted or expired prescription drugs,” said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart in a news release. “DEA is hard at work establishing a drug disposal process and will continue to offer take-back opportunities until the proper regulations are in place. With the support and hard work of our local law enforcement and community partners, these events have not only dramatically reduced the risk of prescription drug diversion and abuse, but have also increased awareness of this critical public health issue.”

Rates of prescription drug abuse in the U.S. are alarmingly high and more Americans currently abuse prescription drugs than the number of those using cocaine, hallucinogens and heroin combined, according to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Studies show that teens who abuse prescription drugs often obtain them from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet.

Director Gil Kerlikowske of the National Drug Control Policy said that responding to the nation’s prescription drug abuse epidemic requires a sustained effort from government, the private sector and the medical community as well as families and individuals.

“The unprecedented amount of prescription drugs turned in by citizens last week will keep dangerous, addictive drugs from being abused,” Kerlikowske said.