DEA holds drug take-back day

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The United States Drug Enforcement Agency hosted its third National Prescription Drug Take Back day Oct. 29 across the U.S., where citizens could take their unused prescription drugs to any one of several pre-approved dropoff sites and leave the prescription drugs they no longer need to take. The DEA would then dispose of the drugs in a safe and legal way.

Many Americans are prescribed drugs that they end up not needing to take, and those drugs end up piling up in their medicine cabinets, with those who were prescribed them left with no idea of how to safely dispose of them. There is the matter of worrying about the drugs getting out of the bottles and contaminating the environment around them, but there is also the worry about thieves stealing the personal, printed information off of the prescription bottle, leaving those who threw them away the potential victims of identity theft.

The second annual National Prescription Drug Take Back day was held April 30 and experienced a huge turnout. The DEA collected more than 376,593 pounds, which translates in to 188 tons, of unwanted or expired medications for safe and proper disposal at the 5,361 take-back sites that were available in all 50 states. The first event was held in September 2010, and had 55 percent less of the amount of drugs turned in, with Americans bringing in 242,000 pounds, or 121 tons, of unused prescription medications.

In addition to needing to dispose of them properly for safety reasons, the DEA wants people to dispose of them to keep potential abuse from happening. According to a 2009 government survey, more than 7 million Americans currently abuse prescription drugs. If people throw potentially addictive drugs into the trash, drug addicts, or those who sell to drug addicts, can find the medications and continue the cycle of abuse.

The Partnership for a Drug Free America says that each day, 2,500 teens are using prescription drugs to get high for the first time, leading many of them into a life of addiction. And many studies show that the drugs that are obtained for that initial period of use are found in family and friends’ medicine cabinets, making those unused drugs that sit around the house an even bigger danger for the youth of America.

Americans across the nation said the event gave them a feeling of security about turning in medications that they no longer had need for. Bonnie Clevenger, a Bay City, California resident, said she was grateful for the event. She showed up to the designated take-back site with a large paper bag full of hers, her family’s and her friends’ unused prescription drugs.

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“I have medicine from when my mom died two years ago. You don’t really know what to do with it. It’s kind of dangerous,” she said. “This is awesome because I can get rid of and dispose it more easily.”

Seattle, WA resident Bill Eng, 89, said he was grateful for the program because he had so many unused prescription drugs that he worried about his grandchildren getting into them and ingesting a potentially harmful substance. He once took a bag full of unused prescriptions to his doctor, he said, who was glad he was trying to properly dispose of them but had no idea what to do with them from there.

DEA Seattle Division Assistant Special Agent in Charge Douglas James said the drugs would be incinerated, the only safe way to get rid of unused prescription drugs.

"We're talking about a significant amount of drugs no longer able to be abused or thrown out and end up in the water supply."

After the September 2010 National Prescription Drug Take Back Day was so successful, congress passed legislation to amend the Controlled Substances Act in a way that would allow the DEA to develop a process for safely disposing of unused prescription drugs. In the future, Americans won’t have to wait for one of these events to get rid of their unused medications. The Safe and Secure Drug Disposal Act is the name of the bill that was signed by President Barack Obama Oct. 12, 2010. Until that process is complete, said the DEA, these prescription drug take-back days will continue to be held.

“The amount of prescription drugs turned in by the American public during the first two Take-Back events is simply staggering—309 tons—and represents a clear need for a convenient way to rid homes of unwanted or expired prescription drugs,” said Michele M. Leonhart, who is a DEA administrator. “DEA is hard at work establishing a drug disposal process and will continue to offer take-back opportunities until the proper regulations are in place.”

The numbers are not yet back on the amount of prescription drugs that were taken in on the third take-back day, but the DEA is expecting the event to have been just as successful as the previous two.

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