Jim Carroll: During COVID-19, the fight against addiction continues at home


As the country continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic, we cannot lose sight of the ongoing crisis of substance misuse and addiction.

Some who are quarantining and staying at home to “flatten the curve” of coronavirus cases may be feeling isolated and depressed. As a result, the potential to turn to unused, unneeded, unmonitored, or expired prescription drugs to self-medicate — all without leaving home — is heightened.

Misuse is not the only threat caused by the availability of excess prescription medicines in the home; unintentional prescription drug poisoning in children is also a public health challenge. According to a study by the Safe Kids Foundation, in 2017 nearly 52,000 children under the age of six were treated in emergency rooms for medicine-related poisonings.

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With coronavirus prompting the cancellation of in-school classes and the closure of summer camps in many areas of the country, children may spend more time at home. This could potentially increase the chances of children finding prescription medicines and being harmed by ingesting them. That is why it is important to not only store medicines securely, but also to dispose of any excess medicines when they are no longer needed.

To address the potential threats posed by excess prescription medicines in the home, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) hosts National Prescription Drug Take Back days, allowing for the safe collection and disposal of unneeded and potentially dangerous medications. Under the leadership of President Trump, Take Back Days have recovered nearly 5.5 million pounds of unused prescription drugs.

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These events are an important tool in preventing prescription drug misuse, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, the most recent Take Back Day was postponed. Compounding this dilemma, some Americans are choosing not to visit year-round take back sites, such as pharmacies, out of concern for coronavirus exposure.

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More than ever, it is critical that patients and their caregivers know how to properly store and dispose of unused, expired, or unneeded medicines on their own.

Numerous Federal agencies provide resources for Americans to combat this issue — all without leaving home. These include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Up and Away” public education campaign and the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) “Remove the Risk” toolkit, including public service announcements and ready-to-use social media graphics. DEA also recently launched its “Secure Your Meds” campaign after Take Back Day was postponed. The campaign shares best practices for in-home prescription drug storage.

Emerging technologies and products aimed at in-home disposal of medications present a new and convenient approach to disposing of prescription drugs without leaving home. The Trump Administration has recognized the potential of such technologies, declaring that in-home disposal options should be more widely available in its National Drug Control Strategy. The FDA website also discusses the possibilities that in-home drug disposal technologies present, and, the National Institutes of Health have supported work exploring these products.

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While the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy works to ensure access to treatment for substance use disorder and reduce the availability of illicit drugs in America’s communities, preventing drug misuse before it starts is critical in stopping the crisis of substance use and addiction.

Properly storing and disposing of unused, unwanted, or expired medications is a key part of this strategy — and it is one that begins at home.

For more information on drug disposal, patients and their caregivers should consult with their doctor or pharmacist, refer to the DEA’s Take Back website (takebackday.dea.gov), or the FDA’s website (www.fda.gov/drugdisposal).

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