ORLANDO, Fla.— In an effort to help take highly abused prescription drugs off the streets, federal authorities are proposing new regulations that would give the public more options to properly and legally get rid of unwanted controlled substances.
Under the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is proposing new components that would ask law-enforcement agencies and pharmacies to maintain collection boxes for certain drugs — such as painkillers and sedatives. They would also implement mail-back programs so authorities could safely dispose of the drugs.
The proposals come with a long list of safety precautions to ensure the drugs could not be reused or stolen and sold on the streets.
The new regulations would allow — for the first time — entities outside of law enforcement to collect the unwanted drugs for disposal. The DEA also intends for local police departments and sheriff’s offices to continue hosting prescription-drug “take-back” events, as they have since 2010.
Prescription-drug abuse has been declared an epidemic in the United States and is the fastest-growing drug problem in the nation. Years of lax laws and regulations for pain-management clinics made Florida a top destination for drug addicts and dealers.
Industry experts say teens and many adults think prescription drugs are safer than other illicit drugs — such as cocaine and methamphetamine — because the pills were prescribed by a physician and came from a pharmacy.
But prescription pills can be just as deadly as illegal drugs.
“Unneeded, expired or excess prescription drugs are languishing in homes across America and too often are diverted to abuse,” said R. Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Before the Disposal Act, few options were available for individuals to legally get rid of unwanted drugs.
“Because the public has limited options for disposal, outdated and unwanted controlled substances often accumulate in medicine cabinets, easily within reach of children and teenagers,” DEA stated in its recent publication.
In fact, a 2010 study found that more than 50 percent of teenagers who took prescription drugs said they obtained their pills from the family’s medicine cabinet, according to the DEA.
“More than 70 percent of people abusing prescription pain relievers got them through friends or relative,” Kerlikowske said last week. “These proposed regulations will literally save lives by empowering local communities to properly dispose of these drugs on their own.”
The public has until Feb. 19 to submit feedback on the proposed regulations, and Congress will ultimately approve the wording.
Paul Doering, a professor at the University of Florida’s College of Pharmacy, said any pill handed over to authorities is one fewer pill on the street. But he’s unsure what impact the new policies will have on prescription-drug abuse.
“It’s a good gesture,” he said. “It’s a good thing on paper. I’m just curious as to whether or not it really makes a difference overall.”
Two years ago, the DEA held its first national prescription-drug take-back day, where drugs could anonymously be turned in to law-enforcement offices throughout the country.
Four other take-back days have occurred since then, and authorities have collected a total of more than 1,000 tons of prescription medications.