Prescription drug abuse has grown so prevalent that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have labeled it an epidemic. Local, state and federal authorities have been largely confounded about how to reverse the trend. According to the CDC, 12 million Americans reported in 2010 that they used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes. Many of them access drugs through friends, family and others who have kept -- or acquired -- unused prescriptions.
In an effort to take surplus medications off the street, more than 4,200 local, state and federal agencies coordinated for a National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day last Saturday. Residents could bring their leftover prescriptions to a designated area, often a police station or health department. Government officials collected 276 tons (more than 552,000 pounds) of unused medications, the highest total of the four Take-Back days that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has held since 2010.
Some states have a bigger problem than others: Appalachia in particular is notorious for widespread abuse. According to CDC figures from 2008, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia ranked in the top 10 in prescription drug overdose deaths (between 15 and 27 per 100,000 people). Florida, which has the highest rate of per-person prescription sales, and Oklahoma, which has the highest rate of non-medical prescription drug use, have also been troubled by the trend.
The Appalachian states contributed a combined 68,540 pounds during Saturday’s collection, according to DEA data. California (48,648), New York (38,486) and Texas (37,445) -- not coincidentally the most populous states -- led the nation in sheer volume.
“Anything we can do to reduce that supply is going to go a long way in helping the problem,” Booth Goodwin, a U.S. Attorney in West Virginia, told the Associated Press. The state’s residents turned in 900 more pounds than they did during the last collection day in 2011. “That’s telling me that West Virginians are fed up, that they want to do something about this problem, and everybody is doing their part,” Goodwin said.
After the medications are collected, DEA agents transport them to the nearest state or municipal incinerator and promptly destroy the drugs. Many state and local agencies offered those services to the DEA at a discounted rate or for free as a public service, DEA Special Agent Gary Boggs, who assists in overseeing the Take-Back effort, told Governing.
State and local health departments and law enforcement agencies also played a critical role in communicating with their constituents and coordinating collection efforts during Take-Back drives, Boggs said. State and local officials staffed more than 5,600 collection sites nationwide. “We couldn’t do this without them,” he said.
Outside of National Take-Back Days, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) advises citizens to contact their local waste management agency. Many states and localities provide ongoing disposal services or offer guides for personally discarding unwanted prescriptions -- mixing the drugs with kitty litter or coffee grind is the new FDA recommendation.
The table below, based on data provided by the DEA, denotes each state’s contribution to last weekend’s prescription drug collection.
|New Hampshire: 4706|
|New Jersey: 16083|
|New Mexico: 3159|
|New York: 38486|
|North Carolina: 3764|
|North Dakota: 259|
|Rhode Island: 2262|
|South Carolina: 2500|
|South Dakota: 1490|
|West Virginia: 4796|