As Published in: Iowa City Press-Citizen
Apr 27 2018
It’s no secret that opioid abuse has become a major problem in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that two-thirds of drug overdose deaths between 2015 and 2016 were opioid-involved overdoses. Here in Iowa, the state’s Department of Public Health reports that more than 200 Iowans died from opioid misuse in 2017. That’s a more than 200 percent increase since 2005, and tragically, the numbers continue to rise. It is urgent that we act to address the epidemic that is sweeping our nation.
With our support, Congress has sought ways to improve prevention, treatment, and enforcement measures through legislation such as the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and the 21st Century Cures Act, both of which we were glad to see signed into law in 2016. Another congressional success was the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010, which allowed the Drug Enforcement Administration to authorize retail pharmacies and others licensed to handle controlled substances to participate in local prescription drug take-back programs throughout the country. These take-back programs provide a convenient and responsible way to dispose of prescription drugs while also raising awareness about abuse of these medicines.
In the last decade, the United States has experienced exponential growth in opioid addiction and abuse. Nearly half of people who report misusing prescription drugs received them from a friend or got them from a family member’s medicine cabinet, and prescribed pain killers are one source fueling the epidemic both nationally and here in Iowa. As the problem continues to worsen, we are exploring new ways to stop its deadly progression and help provide relief to Iowans and all Americans struggling with addiction.
In 2016, we asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office to review prescription drug take-back programs. Last October, it issued a report that found low participation among pharmacies because of high costs and confusion over how to comply with federal regulations. At our urging, in 2017, the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis did its own evaluation of take-back programs. The Commission’s final report encouraged “more hospitals/clinics and retail pharmacies to become year-round authorized collectors.”
That’s why, along with Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, we introduced the bipartisan Access to Increased Drug Disposal Act. The AIDD Act creates a federal demonstration program that would allow five states to apply for grant funding from the Department of Justice to grow participation among pharmacies in their local communities.
Getting feedback on what works and what doesn’t on the local and state levels would help increase the effectiveness and utility of the program across the country. Too often, Congress throws money at a problem without a real strategy, rarely producing positive results and at a huge expense to taxpayers. The AIDD Act is one step toward better protecting our communities from the growing opioid epidemic.
Last fall, Americans returned nearly one million pounds of prescription drugs on the 14th National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. The DEA tallied a record-setting 912,305 pounds of unneeded prescription medicine, and that’s with 5,321 collection sites available. Increasing incentives and reducing regulatory barriers for pharmacies and other eligible participating local entities could have a significant impact on increasing the amount of safely disposed unused and unneeded drugs.
The opioid epidemic affects people from every background. From rural America to the coasts, and everywhere in between, it is ruining the lives of individuals, their families and entire communities. There’s no quick fix. The problem won’t be solved overnight. But critical preventative measures like drug take-back programs can go a long way in helping to stem the progression and spread of addiction.
April 28 is National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, an effort to provide a safe, convenient and responsible way to dispose of unused and expired prescription drugs while raising awareness about abuse of prescription drugs. Find a location at takebackday.dea.gov.
Republican Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley represent Iowa in the U.S. Congress.