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Help your Patients Fight Prescription Drug Abuse
Thomas M. Anderson, MD
ISMS President
Thomas M. Anderson, MD

Who ever thought that expired or unused prescription medications innocently lingering in America’s medicine cabinets, night stands or kitchen drawers could actually be helping to fuel our country’s opioid epidemic?

In the United States, approximately one-third of all medicines go unused each year – and some of these medications are taken by others to get high or feed a growing addiction.

The majority of prescription drug abusers report in surveys that they get their drugs from friends and family. So to encourage the general public to address their supply of unused or expired prescription medications, law enforcement and other government agencies often host “take-back” events in which these drugs can be brought to a legal collection site.

National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, which is coming up on October 22, aims not only to offer a safe, convenient and responsible means of disposing of prescription drugs, but also to educate the general public about the potential for abuse of their unused medications. This event is an initiative of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

At the DEA’s last take-back event, 893,498 pounds of unwanted medications were turned in for disposal across all 50 states. In Illinois alone, roughly 48,000 pounds of pills were collected! This impressive haul was the fourth largest in the nation.

While these take-back events are clearly successful, it’s important to let your patients know that here in Illinois they may take their unused medication to an authorized collector all year round. Patients and physicians alike may visit our website, www.isms.org/Take-Back, for tools to aid in locating a convenient collection site for dropping off unused medication. These sites are legally allowed to receive controlled substances for the purpose of destruction.

ISMS has also developed a new Issue Brief to tackle this topic, Combating Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse: Physician and Patient Roles and Responsibilities for Disposal of Unused Medications. This resource is designed to help you guide patients on give you information on how to properly dispose of prescription medications and how to dispose of your sample medications.

In addition to the Issue Brief, ISMS developed other patient education materials, including posters (one and two) and wallet/purse-sized cards with disposal guidance. Watch your mailbox, because active practice ISMS members and residents will be receiving printed copies of the kit.

We have been at the forefront advocating for legislation to address the opioid epidemic.

ISMS was among several organizations and individuals who testified before the House Bipartisan Heroin Crisis Task Force, the workgroup that contributed to the framework for ISMS-backed House Bill 1, which was enacted in the fall of 2015 to address opioid and heroin abuse in Illinois. One of the provisions in the law directed that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency establish a medication take-back program, which began last June.

Additionally, within the last year several national pharmacy chains have placed medication disposal collectors in their stores. When all is said and done, the appropriate disposal of unused medications is critical in preventing them from getting into the hands of those who might misuse them.

With four out of five new heroin users starting out on prescription meds, forgotten pills need to be properly destroyed so they will never cause harm to others.

I look forward to hearing from you. During my term, I can be reached at DrAnderson@isms.org.

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