Weekly Columns

Prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classified prescription drug abuse as an epidemic. The agency estimates that at least 44 people in the U.S. die from an overdose of prescription drugs each day and even more become addicted.

As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee I’m working with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to create a connected network of VA pharmacies to protect against potential abuse and correct the practice of overprescribing pain medication. VA created an environment of dependency on opioids and other medications, leading to addiction and in some cases – death.  In 2013, VA launched the Opioid Safety Initiative (OSI) to reform its prescription culture. We have seen success with this program, but unfortunately the problem continues.

Drug take-back programs are an important tool to breaking the cycle of addiction for our veterans and all prescription drug abusers. That’s why my colleagues and I pushed the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to establish drug take-back programs in coordination with the Department of Defense (DoD) and VA. DEA recently update its regulations and expanded prescription drug disposal programs to allow pharmacies, hospitals, clinics and others to serve as drop-off sites to collect unused or unwanted prescription drugs. 

These types of programs are working right here in Arkansas.

After responding to incidents that occurred as a result of teenage prescription drug abuse, the Benton Police Department created the ‘take back box’ so citizens had a safe place to dispose of unused and unneeded prescription drugs. 

Efforts to tackle prescription drug abuse in this population were ramped up after 2007 data from the Office of National Drug Control Policy showed that Arkansas teens were the most likely to abuse prescription drugs than any others nationwide. In 2010, a statewide effort was launched to collect prescription drugs as part of a larger initiative to decrease teen abuse. 

It continues to be a challenge in the Natural State, but programs like Arkansas Take Back are a making a big difference by decreasing the availability of prescription drugs. Since 2010, more than 62 tons of unneeded medications have been collected as part of Arkansas Take Back. Saturday, April 25 marks the 10th statewide event. More than 130 collection sites across the state will take old and unneeded prescription drugs. 

Arkansas Take Back is a coordinated effort between law enforcement agencies around the state and community organizations to educate Arkansas about the dangers of prescription drugs. 

Prescription drug abuse is a widespread problem that impacts all ages and populations of Americans. We have a responsibility to get expired and unwanted prescription drugs out of our homes to prevent pills from getting in the hands of abusers. 

For more information about Arkansas Take Back, visit www.artakeback.org and find a collection site closest to you.