May 20, 2015

Manchin and Capito Call for Reinstatement of National Drug Take-Back Days

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), along with eight of their Senate colleagues, today sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch calling for the reinstatement of National Drug Take-Back Days.  

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently issued regulations that would legally expand options for disposing of controlled substances. At the same time, the agency also announced that it will no longer sponsor National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days. In the letter to Attorney General Lynch, the Senators highlight the need for the DEA’s National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days to continue given their successful track record of reducing the prescription drug supply. An estimated 309 tons of unwanted drugs were collected at the last DEA-sponsored National Prescription Drug Take-Back event in 2014, and a total of more than 2,400 tons were collected since 2010. 

"Prescription drug abuse is devastating to communities across West Virginia and this nation,” Senator Manchin said. “Drug Take-Back Days have brought Americans together from all sides of this epidemic — individuals, medical professionals, law enforcement, and educators seeking to prevent addiction — to work toward fighting against drug abuse. These events not only help combat drug abuse by providing an opportunity to safely dispose of these medications, but they also help spread awareness of this critical issue. Past drug take-back days have been enormously successful. According to the DEA, Americans have turned in hundreds of thousands of pounds of pills at thousands of sites across the country. That is why I join a bipartisan group of Senators in urging the DEA to reconsider the termination of this important program. We cannot afford to lose even one opportunity to help curb this epidemic in order to try to reach strong, drug-free communities.” 

“With West Virginia leading the nation in overdose deaths, it is imperative that plenty of options exist for safely, legally and conveniently disposing of unwanted medications,” said Senator Capito. “Curbing the drug crisis in West Virginia, and around the nation, is critically important. Last month, I hosted a Drug Prevention Summit in the Eastern Panhandle, and learned that in addition to the dire need for treatment facilities, there is an urgent need to cut off the drug supply chain. That includes preventing prescription drugs from ending up in the wrong hands. While I am encouraged by the DEA’s new regulations that legally expand options for disposing of controlled substances, I strongly urge the reinstatement of National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days to help us fight this epidemic that is devastating communities throughout West Virginia and the entire country.”

The text of the letter is below. View a PDF of the signed letter here

Dear Attorney General Lynch: 

We write to emphasize the importance and usefulness of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) National Prescription Drug Take-Back Program.  While we are pleased that the DEA has recently issued regulations that would legally expand the options for disposal of controlled substances, we are disappointed that DEA has simultaneously decided to cease this opportunity for public service by announcing that it no longer intends to sponsor National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days. In light of the yet to be seen widespread adoption of alternative and easy to use disposal options for consumers, we urge you to reinstate this program given the vitally important role it plays in reducing the excess supply of prescription drugs.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers in 2012, the most recent year with data available, amounting to enough for every American adult to have their own bottle of painkillers.  When unused prescription medications accumulate at home it creates a public health and safety concern, because these pills can be accidentally ingested, stolen, misused, and abused. It is estimated that 69 percent of people who abused prescription painkillers obtained these drugs from a family member or friend.  

The risks of painkiller abuse are incredibly devastating. Approximately 44 people die every day in this country as a result of prescription opioid overdose and more than 30 people are admitted to an emergency room because of opioid complications.  Furthermore, some individuals who become addicted to prescription opioid painkillers may be driven to use illicit substances such as heroin, which have similar neurological effects. Data by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration indicates that four out of five heroin users started abusing prescription drugs first.  Additionally, death from heroin overdose in the U.S. has almost tripled between 2010 and 2013.   

To address the crisis of prescription drug abuse and overdoses related to this abuse it is imperative that a secure, convenient way to dispose of unused, unneeded, or expired medications exists. Drug take-back days have proven to be an incredibly successful means for reducing the supply of prescription drugs in the home. At the last DEA sponsored National Prescription Drug Take-Back event in 2014, the DEA and more than 4,000 of its partners collected 309 tons of unwanted drugs at nearly 5,500 individual sites, bringing the total amount of drugs collected in four years to more than 2,400 tons. The public’s enormous response to each of DEA’s National Take-Back Days demonstrates the need for an easy, well known, and convenient way to prevent pill abuse and theft by ridding homes of unwanted and potentially dangerous prescription drugs. 

Ideally consumers would have routine, convenient and multiple legal options for disposing of unwanted and unused prescriptions and we support all efforts in increasing and improving the options for legal disposal. Furthermore, we encourage DEA to continue engaging with local law enforcement, private industry and others about implementing prescription drug take-back options that comply with DEA’s new regulations. It is evident that the promotion and support of DEA in sponsoring National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days have been incredibly important piece of the puzzle in addressing the opioid overdose epidemic and we urge DEA to reconsider its cessation of this public outreach program and reinstitute National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days.