By U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Opioid addiction has devastated the United States over the past decade. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 100 people in the United States die from opioid overdoses each day. In 2017, there was a total of 70,237 drug overdose deaths – opioids were involved in 47,600 overdose deaths.
There is no quick fix to this problem. Progress will only happen through a coordinated effort from communities, states and Congress. In 2016, Congress passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 (CARA), which authorized approximately $900 million over a five-year period to enhance prevention, education, treatment, recovery and law enforcement efforts.
In 2018, President Trump signed into law the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, which builds on the efforts of CARA by tackling different facets of the opioid crisis to provide support and prevention on multiple fronts, including transparency in opioid prescribing, family-focused residential treatment options, prescription drug tracking and a national drug take-back program.
Drug take-back programs are critical prevention tools that help stop addiction before it starts. According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a majority of misused prescription drugs were obtained from family and friends – often taken from the home medicine cabinet. The National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is a national program coordinated by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Its purpose is to provide a safe, convenient and anonymous way to dispose of unused prescription drugs. This prevents them from getting into the wrong hands.
Three years ago, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and I requested that the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) conduct a review of drug take-back programs. Its report found low participation in the program due to confusing federally-imposed regulations. We also urged the President’s Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis to conduct an evaluation of drug take-back programs. The final report spurred increased participation in take-back programs from hospitals, clinics and pharmacies through year-round collection of unused drugs.
The Access to Increased Drug and Disposal Act (AIDD) is one of the bills included in the 2018 law. The bill, which I introduced with Sens. Ernst and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), creates a federal demonstration program that allows states to apply for grant funding from the Department of Justice to grow participation in drug take-back days.
Drug take-back programs are important because they engage and empower individuals and communities to fight back against addiction. During the 16th National Drug Take Back Day in October, 2018, the DEA organized 5,839 collection sites and collected more than 900,000 pounds of prescription medicine nationwide. That’s more than 457 tons of drugs that were diverted from theft, misuse and polluting the environment. Since the first national collection in 2010, the DEA has collected nearly 11 million pounds. In my home state of Iowa, more than 123,500 pounds of unused drugs have been collected since the beginning of the drug take-back program.
The 17th National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is this Saturday, April 27. I encourage every American with unused prescription drugs to participate. A list of authorized collection sites nationwide is available at http://takebackday.dea.gov.
Each unused prescription drug collected is potentially a life saved that otherwise may have fallen victim to drug addiction. The entire nation is impacted by the opioid crisis. It will take a sustained, cooperative approach from every community and every state to help solve the problem. Drug take-back days are opportunities for individuals to get involved and make a difference.