Staff Columnist

How you can fight opioid abuse from home

Contents from a drug drop box in the lobby of the Cedar Rapids Police Department are seen May 31, 2016. The drugs are sorted into liquids and solids and then incinerated by the Drug Enforcement Administration. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Contents from a drug drop box in the lobby of the Cedar Rapids Police Department are seen May 31, 2016. The drugs are sorted into liquids and solids and then incinerated by the Drug Enforcement Administration. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Headlines from the opioid epidemic can be overwhelming. Still, we can’t allow the vastness of this problem to scare us into inaction.

There is something you can do this month to help turn the tide: Clean out your medicine cabinet.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is coordinating its 15th National Prescription Drug Take Back Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 28. It’s a time set aside for consumers to anonymously and safely dispose of unwanted medications at community collection sites, most of which are sponsored by local law enforcement agencies.

No questions are asked, but to further guard privacy, participants should either scratch out personal information from prescription labels or empty the containers into collection bins.

During an event last October, 5,321 collection sites around the nation received more than 912,300 pounds of unused medications. In Iowa alone, 11,526 pounds of prescription medications were collected at 108 collection sites.

It’s an important step because 6.4 million Americans abused controlled prescription drugs, according to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Many of those prescriptions were obtained from family and friends — leftover, legally obtained medications that were not properly disposed.

This is especially true for teenagers. The non-medical use of prescription drugs ranks second only to marijuana as the most common form of drug abuse in America; about three out of four new heroin users report previous prescription opioid abuse.

But all unused and expired medications, even those not generally abused, are a public safety issue. Keeping them around can lead to accidental poisonings, and disposing of them in a wrong way negatively affects the environment. Medications flushed in toilets or washed down sinks can enter the water supply.

The National Prescription Drug Take Back occurs twice each year. It exists as an opportunity to bring public awareness to the need to properly dispose of medications, and as a public outreach campaign predominantly for law enforcement.

But consumers don’t have to wait.

Thanks to a 2014 DEA regulation change, many medications, prescription and over-the-counter drugs can be relinquished for disposal at most Iowa pharmacy locations. Locations for these disposal sites are in a searchable database on the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy website. While most sites accept a variety of medications, some may limit what is accepted. Such limitations are included in the database.

Those using the permanent sites should be aware that only drugs from the immediate household are accepted, including pet medications, unless the medications are from a recently deceased friend or relative. In the case of a death, any person lawfully entitled to dispose of the decedent’s property also may dispose of medications using a collection site.

And, once again, be sure to protect personally identifiable information by either not placing pill bottles in collection bins or redacting label information.

All medications gathered through these programs are “rendered non-retrievable,” most commonly through incineration.

Beyond removing unwanted and expired medications from our homes, we also can protect teens and young adults by simply talking about the dangers of drug abuse. Numerous studies have shown that when teenagers learn about the risks of using illicit drugs, those teens are 50 percent less likely to use them.

We can apply the same to non-medical use of prescriptions, and begin talking about why abuse of medication is a bad idea and the potential pitfalls. Parents unsure how to begin that conversation can download a brochure produced by the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy as part of a collaborative federal grant.

Nearly one out of four Iowa middle and high school students either do not know or don’t believe prescription drugs can harm them. And nearly half of young heroin injectors reported earlier abuse of prescription opioids.

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These are statistics our communities can change through honest conversation and spring cleaning. And we can start today.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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