Washington DC— On its ninth National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on September 27, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and 4,076 of its national, tribal, and community law enforcement partners collected 617,150 pounds (309 tons) of unwanted prescription drugs at 5,495 sites. This brought the total amount of drugs collected in four years to 4,823,251 pounds, or 2,411 tons. (A breakdown of this ninth Take-Back Day’s results by state can be seen here.)
Unused prescription medications in homes create a public health and safety concern, because they can be accidentally ingested, stolen, misused, and abused. While the number of Americans who currently abuse prescription drugs dropped in 2013 to 6.5 million from 6.8 million in 2012, that is still more than double the number of those using heroin, cocaine, and hallucinogens like LSD and Ecstasy combined, according to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. In addition, 22,134 Americans died in 2011 from overdoses of prescription medications, including 16,651 from narcotic painkillers, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The survey of users cited above also found that the majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet.
DEA began hosting National Prescription Drug Take-Back events four years ago, because at that time the Controlled Substances Act made no legal provision for patients and their caregivers to rid themselves of unwanted controlled substance prescription drugs except to give them to law enforcement; it banned pharmacies and hospitals from accepting them. Most people flushed their unused prescription drugs down the toilet, threw them in the trash, or kept them in the household medicine cabinet, resulting in contamination of the water supply and the theft and abuse of the prescription drugs.
The week after DEA’s first Take-Back Day, Congress enacted the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010. The Act authorized DEA to develop and implement regulations that outline methods the public and long-term care facilities can use to transfer pharmaceutical controlled substances and other prescription drugs to authorized collectors for the purpose of disposal. While those regulations were being developed and approved, the DEA continued to hold twice-yearly Take-Back events.
DEA’s new disposal regulations were published in the Federal Register on September 9 and are intended to expand the options available to safely and securely dispose of potentially dangerous prescription medications on a routine basis. They can be viewed at www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov or at www.regulations.gov.
The new regulations authorize certain DEA registrants (manufacturers, distributors, reverse distributors, narcotic treatment programs, retail pharmacies, and hospitals/clinics with an on-site pharmacy) to modify their registration with the DEA to become authorized collectors. All authorized collectors may operate a collection receptacle at their registered location, and collectors with an on-site means of destruction may operate a mail-back program. Anyone (not just authorized collectors) can hand out the pre-printed, pre-addressed mail-back packages in which patients and their caregivers can send their unused drugs to the mail-back program operators. Retail pharmacies and hospitals/clinics with an on-site pharmacy may operate collection receptacles at long-term care facilities.
The public may find authorized collectors in their communities by calling the DEA Office of Diversion Control’s Registration Call Center at 1-800-882-9539.
Law enforcement continues to have autonomy with respect to how they collect controlled substance prescription drugs from patients or their caregivers, including holding Take-Back events. Any person or entity—DEA registrant or non-registrant—may partner with law enforcement to conduct Take-Back events. Patients also may continue to utilize the guidelines for the disposal of pharmaceutical controlled substances listed by the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. Any method of patient disposal that was valid prior to these new regulations being implemented continues to be valid.