Watchdog Editorial: Prescription take-back day holds promise if public is made aware

A police officer loads drugs from the Take-Back day sponsored by the San Ramon Regional Hospital Foundation and the San Ramon Police Department

Though Saturday’s DEA-sponsored Prescription Drug Take-Back Day could potentially affect the dissemination of the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin, future success of the initiative hinges on local efforts and public awareness. A little funding would be nice too.

Chances are that most people with unused prescription drugs received conflicting information on the best way to dispose of them, reports Media Health The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Office of National Drug Control Policy recommend tossing the pills in the toilet or trash, while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service state that the chemicals from flushed drugs are harmful to the environment and end up in our drinking water.

“I believe this event has done a lot to help people throughout the country understand the need to get rid of these medications,” says April Rovero, who founded the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse after her son, Joey, died in December 2009 from a lethal combination of alcohol and misused prescription medication.

Rovero, who assisted the San Ramon Regional Hospital Foundation and the San Ramon Police Department’s take-back event on Saturday, says that while the public generally understands they need to dispose of their medications rather than hold onto them, the real nature of the prescription drug epidemic is still widely misunderstood. The event, she says, gave her organization the opportunity to talk with numerous individuals about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.

“We spent time talking to younger people whom we thought might have children, explaining the risks, and we spent time talking with older people about making sure younger members of their family don’t raid their medicine cabinet,” she says. “They listened, and I believe they ‘got it,’ especially when I referenced my son’s death as a result of prescription medication.”

Medical News Today reports that as much as 17 percent of prescribed medications go unused. Such availability of these drugs has lead to prescription abuse among teenagers becoming second only to illegal marijuana, reports this article from Psychiatric News.

To help curb the estimated 39,000 people who die annually of prescription drug abuse, the U.S. Congress earlier this year quickly and unanimously passed the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010, a bill which creates a take-back day (Sept. 25) and outlines a method for disposing of prescription drugs. Don’t worry if it doesn’t sound familiar – until last week, national media hardly uttered a squeak on the topic.

Though there was no national policy on disposing of prescription drugs prior to the bill, local programs and organizations were leading the effort to inform the public of the epidemic and proper disposal practices.

Boxes containing 400 pounds of medications collected for incineration at the San Ramon Take-Back event

“Mostly, people seemed to just hang on to the pills because they don’t know what to do with them,” Rovero says. “It was very obvious that the majority of people didn’t know about the two drop off sites in our area.”

Last week, Watchdog reported on several city and state initiatives that met with varying success. In fact, only 21 states are participating in regularly recurring take-back programs, according to the Drug Take-Back Network.

Though the San Ramon program and others across the nation may have collected a record amount of the unused drugs last week, Watchdog wonders if Drug Take-Back Day in coming years will generate the same media buzz and thereby quantities of potentially dangerous medications?

Watchdog also finds it troubling that despite the legislature’s willingness to support and aid the cause of preventing prescription drug abuse, no additional funding was set aside for the initiative. Instead, the program relies mainly on local efforts. Plagued with an economic recession, a fledgling health care plan, and an ongoing war, the country hardly has any funding leftover – even if prescription drug abuse is one of our nation’s top killers.

This, despite the fact that a recent study by the Office of National Drug Control Policy reports that prescription drug abuse has increased 400 percent in the U.S. between 1998 and 2008. Another disturbing report recently found that prescription drug abuse rivals and in some states replaces car crashes as the number one killer of people under the age of 34.

With statistics like these coming out regularly on the problem of OxyContin and other highly addictive prescription medications, it’s imperative to keep this issue on the front burner – beyond Sept. 25.

Watch Rovero speak on her son’s death and the dangers of prescription drug abuse here.

Listen to Rovero speak about opiate abuse here and here.

By Dana Owens, Oxy Watchdog contributor

About Dana Owens

Dana Owens is San Francisco-based writer, editor and blogger who works on diverse projects from holistic health research to record label promotion. In addition to lending her editorial eye to Oxy Watchdog, Dana also acts as copyeditor for 99 Series, Inc. and executive assistant/project coordinator for Heartline Productions.
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