Mayoral Musings: Drug Take-Back Day(s)

By: Albert B. Kelly, Mayor, City of Bridgeton

Dispose of expired or unused prescription medications any day at the Bridgeton Police Department.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of all the various days or weeks that are set aside to focus our attention on a specific issue or group. Part of the challenge is the sheer number of such national observances. There’s everything from National Pig Day and National Donut Day to Paper Airplane Day, Fried Chicken Day, and National Honey Bee Day. The day after Thanksgiving, in addition to being “Black Friday”, is also “Buy Nothing Day” and the National Day of Listening. Go figure.    

But somewhere between doughnuts and paper airplanes I missed the fact that April 27 was National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. It matters because according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), a National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that upwards of 6 million citizens misused or abused controlled prescription drugs in 2017. The research showed that the bulk of these controlled drugs came from the medicine cabinets of family members and friends.

In some instances, those medicine cabinets may have been the place where the problem got started. On the other hand, the cabinets may be the place you go next when you’ve already got that particular monkey on your back and things are already somewhat out of control, but you’ve not yet taken to the streets to keep from getting dope sick. 

If you’ve not experienced that particular problem, that’s a good thing, but it can also make it easy to render some harsh judgements about those who have. If we go with old stereotypes, something I struggle to avoid, we may think of the addicted as lazy weak-willed losers. But I remind myself often that the ranks of the addicted include doctors, lawyers, clergy members, truck drivers, athletes, blue collar workers, honor students, business executives and everyone in between. 

Part of why that’s true is because today’s opioid crisis came courtesy of the pharmaceutical companies and Purdue Pharma in particular. You might recall that back in the 1990s and into the 2000s, Purdue Pharma, the inventor of Oxycontin, went hard at doctors with the idea that their time-released product was non-addictive if used for pain according to the label and that doctors had to lighten up when it came to prescribing relief to hurting patients. This became the “new normal” in pain management. Prescribing pills was also often easier on health insurers’ bottom line than costlier long-term therapies. 

Whether it was a high school student injured playing sports after school, a construction worker injured at the job site, a soccer mom who got hurt exercising at the gym and required knee surgery or a business executive passing a kidney stone, they went to the doctor—as any of us would—and came away with a prescription for pain medication. That new normal is a large part of how the average American medicine cabinet became part of our current opioid crisis and why it is necessary to have a National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. 

Prior to April 27, the last National Take Back Day was in October of last year. That effort saw 914,236 pounds of prescription drugs collected at 5,839 collection sites—some 457 tons worth. According to the DEA, since 2010, they’ve collected just under 11 million pounds of prescription drugs. It’s not clear how much of that was opioids, but the problem also involves medications like Xanax, Adderall, and Ritalin. 

In addition to keeping these medications from becoming part of the stats on overdose, misuse, or abuse, the National Take Back effort also keeps all sorts of medications, including antibiotics, from being flushed down the toilet, which helps in keeping them out of our water supply. But that’s a separate discussion for another day.

While April 27 is behind us, Bridgeton can participate in the next National Take Back Day. More importantly, residents in the greater Bridgeton area can dispose of expired, unused, or unwanted prescription medications throughout the year at the Bridgeton Police Department located at 330 Fayette Street. There is a container in the lobby that is safe and available to any member of the public. Bridgeton Rite Aid has also recently installed a disposal container at their pharmacy counter.

We had roughly 72,000 overdose deaths in the U.S in 2017 and I can’t help but think that for many, the path that led there started by opening a medicine cabinet.