Got (Legal) Drugs? Ask the Right Questions about DEA's Prescription Drug Take-Back Day
On Saturday, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency will hold its first prescription drug take-back day, setting up 4,000 sites nationwide where people can bring old and unused prescription drugs for safe disposal. (Click here to find a site in your community.)
Here are some resources and some context if you're covering the one-day event or reporting more generally on prescription drug abuse or the environmental impacts of prescription drug disposal.
The idea of the DEA's campaign is to highlight America's prescription drug abuse problem. But will this kind of event be effective? Veteran health journalist Maia Szalavitz, writing in Time's Healthland blog, is skeptical:
"The DEA's take-back program addresses the reality that the vast majority of prescription drug misusers are not pain patients and that they tend to get their pills and patches from friends, dealers or by theft, rather than from doctors legitimately. But the program overlooks another significant reality."
Szalavitz points out that people tend to hold on to their painkillers because they are afraid doctors won't prescribe them in the future for fear their patients will become addicted. Other causes for skepticism: there's little evidence that similar gun buy-back programs reduce gun-related crimes, and there's no reward for turning in your prescription drugs.
She also writes about drug policy that perpetuates the problem:
By fostering a panic around prescriptions, law enforcement actually perpetuates this problem. Legitimate patients fear being cut off, so they hoard drugs. This hoarding provides an opportunity for thieves and curious teens.
The event may have value in calling national attention to the issue of prescription drug abuse, but you can cover these events with the right degree of skepticism. The fact that many of the collection sites are at police and sheriff departments also could create a potentially intimidating atmosphere, especially considering Szalavitz' recent post about a sheriff who wanted access to prescription records of anyone who'd been prescribed controlled painkillers in North Carolina.
After tomorrow's DEA event is old news, it's worth looking at the environmental and potential health impacts of prescription drug disposal. Check out the resources below.
The Teleosis Institute, which promotes environmentally sound pharmacy and medical practices, highlights research on prescription drug disposal programs and also maintains a list of ongoing prescription drug collection programs nationwide.
The Medline Plus: Prescription Drug Abuse website has a wealth of resources for journalists, including the latest news, statistics and research.
This USGS website offers resources on the impact of prescription drugs dumped into our water supply.