I stared at the faces – perhaps one hundred individual photos, side-by-side – of all ages, sizes, and colors – cut down by the ravages of prescription drug abuse.
For the most part they were ordinary people, like you and me. A few fit the stereotype drug addict depicted on TV – disheveled, worn beyond years, tired, and glazed. But most were the epitome of success, gleaming with promise and potential.
As I gazed into their eyes in the lobby of the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate, which hosted the 2013 National Rx Drug Abuse Summit, the importance of our work on leftover pharmaceuticals solidly hit home. I can help prevent a death. I can help save a life. In fact, we can all help prevent drug abuse, and the death and destruction that appear in its wake.
I understand the over-simplicity in my statements. Every person carries historical baggage, and for some people, it may seem just too complicated, too heavy, too difficult, and too much to bear. All the support in the world might not help at times. But we can remove barriers to the chance for a healthy life, and provide needed support. One of those barriers is that too many drugs are lying around the home when they should be cleaned out and safely destroyed. I do not want to overlook the environmental and aquatic impacts of leftover medications in our waterways. But make no mistake: drug abuse drives the issue of pharmaceutical take-back.
Prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in America and has been classified as an epidemic by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationwide, unintentional prescription opioid overdoses kill more Americans than cocaine and heroin combined. A host of federal agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, recommend that leftover medicine be brought to take-back programs for safe collection and disposal. So do 43 states.
We know the problem, and we know at least part of the solution. But we also need a way to pay for the means to educate people about the problem of drug abuse, make them aware of the need for safe disposal, and increase the availability of take-back programs. To date, the pharmaceutical companies that make the drugs, particularly addictive opioids like OxyContin and Percocet, have refused to take any degree of responsibility for safely disposing of leftover medications from the home. Not only is there a lack of convenient options to safely dispose of leftover medicine, there is an epidemic of over-prescription.
Two counties have stepped forward to lead a national effort to reverse this trend – Alameda County, California, and King County, Washington. PSI is supporting both of these agencies in their efforts to hold pharmaceutical companies responsible for financing and managing programs to safely collect and destroy leftover home medicines. Thousands of U.S. government agencies support this approach. Provinces in Canada and countries in Europe already successfully and cost-effectively run take-back programs financed and managed by pharmaceutical companies.
PSI is fortunate to have sensed the rise of this issue seven years ago. With the help of many of you, we began the slow, deliberate process of building national support for leftover drug take-backs, changing the federal Controlled Substances Act and associated Drug Enforcement Administration regulations (still in draft form). We are helping to implement the King County law and are setting up voluntary collection sites and raising awareness in rural counties in Washington and Oregon as pilots for national replication. We also finished a three-year project in the Great Lakes, where our coalition developed a model producer responsibility program, created a comprehensive online resource for anyone looking for more information about what to do with their leftover medications, compiled a series of “Lessons Learned” to assist communities nationwide, and created a consumer-friendly info sheet to educate people on what to do with leftover medicine. For these efforts, PSI was honored with a “A Million Thanks” award from Covanta Energy. Personally, I find it rewarding to take part in such worthy efforts, and feel fortunate to have the opportunity.
Please help PSI do more by joining our effort. I have never solicited funds on this blog post before. But the devastating effects of drug abuse are happening right now, right before our very eyes, insidiously belying normalcy. Please consider becoming a PSI partner, making a donation*, or offering a sponsorship* to help us reverse this growing trend. Neil Young sang about every junkie being “like a setting sun.” Together, we have the power to let them see the sunrise.
*To make a donation to PSI or offer a sponsorship, contact Amanda Nicholson at 617.236.4833 or by email at amanda(at)productstewardship(dot)us.