JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska, –
In the United States, drug overdose rates have increased fivefold since 1980. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2009 drug overdose deaths outnumbered those caused by motor vehicle crashes for the first time.
In an effort to prevent pill abuse, the Drug Enforcement Agency is scheduled to host its semiannual National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day April 30.
Ridding homes of potentially dangerous, expired, unused and unwanted prescription drugs is one way to combat the overdose epidemic. For those on Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson, medication disposal containers are located at all three pharmacies on the base year round.
"We have a prescription drop-off at all three of the pharmacies on base," said George Mongar, with the JBER Army Substance Abuse Program. "As long as the pharmacy is open, you can walk in and drop it off."
According to a DEA news release, last September Americans turned in 350 tons of prescription drugs at more than 5,000 sites operated by the DEA and more than 3,800 of its state and local law enforcement partners. When combined with the past 10 Take Back events, the DEA and its partners have taken in more than 2,750 tons of pills.
This initiative addresses a vital public safety and health issue, Mongar said. The event is designed to remove the availability of prescription drugs. Most people who are in treatment centers are there because of prescription drug abuse, Mongar said.
According to the CDC, deaths from prescription painkillers have reached epidemic levels in the past decade. The number of overdose deaths is now greater than those of deaths from heroin and cocaine combined.
"Drugs kept in medicine cabinets at home are highly susceptible to misuse or abuse," Mongar said. "There is a perception that prescription drugs are safe, but what people don't realize is that there is a prescription because they are dangerous. If they weren't dangerous, they would be over-the-counter."
In addition to safety hazards to the public, drugs pose a threat to the environment. Many people flush unwanted drugs down the toilet and don't know the potential damage it could cause.
"The issue with flushing the drugs down the toilet is that the wastewater systems are not designed to filter out prescription drugs," Mongar said. "It goes through the filtering system and then gets dumped into the bays, where it basically wipes out our natural fish habitats and increases algae growth."
Throwing medicine in the trash is also not recommended because it will eventually find its way to the water systems through landfills, Mongar continued.
For more information on the medication disposals at the pharmacies on base, call 384-0863.
For information on the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day and their locations, visit www.dea.gov