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Commentary: DEA and You – Ending the Epidemic of Prescription Drug Abuse Together

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While the abuse of controlled prescription drugs has been happening since prescriptions were first written, the recent surge in controlled prescription drug abuse is both alarming and dangerous.

It is alarming because increased abuse impacts so many people. The 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, released just last month, shows that approximately 6,700 Americans are using psychotherapeutic drugs non-medically for the first time each day.

It is dangerous because prescription drugs, while they have an important role when used correctly and under a doctor’s supervision, can be just as dangerous as methamphetamine, Ecstasy, or heroin if used incorrectly. In 2010, of the 38,329 drug overdose deaths in the United States, 22,134 – 60 percent – were related to prescription drugs. Of those, 75 percent involved prescription painkillers.

Whether I look at these facts as a grandmother or as a cop, the conclusion is the same: we must stop this cycle of addiction and death. Doing so will make a difference in the quality of life in every American community.

The Drug Enforcement Administration is dedicated not just to the enforcement of federal drug laws, but to the regulation of access to dangerous substances. We ensure that manufacturers, distributors, doctors and pharmacists are properly licensed and have sufficient controls in place to minimize the risk of diversion of dangerous controlled prescription drugs. And while there are a few bad apples, a vast majority of those we regulate share our common objective of ensuring the right medicine goes to the right people, while ensuring these drugs are produced, stored and distributed in a controlled manner to minimize the chance that they will be abused.

Finally, after controlled prescription drugs have served their legitimate purpose, often there remains unused, unwanted, or expired drugs that still hold the potential for misuse. DEA is in the process of finalizing regulations as part of the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act that will allow for a permanent nationwide solution to the disposal of controlled substances.

Until that process is completed, the DEA will sponsor our National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day events that many of you have supported. All told, the last six Take-Back Days have collected more than 1,400 tons of pills, including a record breaking 371 tons this past April alone.

The next National Prescription Take-Back Day is tomorrow, Saturday, October 26 at more than 5,000 locations around the country. Your participation along with that of your friends, neighbors and community leaders will be critical, as it always is, to the success of this campaign that takes tons of drugs out of harm’s way and ensures their safe and secure disposal.

I appreciate all you do to help us keep our country safe and drug free, and thank you for being our partner in this important cause.

Michele M. Leonhart
Administrator, Drug Enforcement Administration

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