October 24 is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, a day hosted by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to give Americans the opportunity to dispose of unused or expired medications. Last October, 882,919 pounds of prescription drugs were collected amounting to an astonishing 12,699,456 pounds of drugs collected through this DEA event since its inception. We know from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health that the medicine cabinet is a significant source for abuse, with the study finding that the majority of the almost 10 million Americans who abused prescription drugs acquired drugs from friends and family.
Saturday is also the 2nd anniversary of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act being signed into law by President Trump. The SUPPORT Act, sponsored by Energy and Commerce Committee Republican Leader Greg Walden (R-OR), represents the single largest congressional effort against the opioid crisis. Because of the work of the Energy and Commerce Committee, communities have new tools, resources, and authorities to take on the opioid crisis. The SUPPORT Act also included a provision to encourage the proper disposal of controlled substances utilized by hospice patients, reducing the number of unused substances left for potential diversion or misuse.
We know that opioids have claimed hundreds of thousands of American lives. Although the SUPPORT Act is a colossal effort to turn the tide of the opioid epidemic, it was never meant to be the final solution. E&C Republicans continue to advance legislation and investigate the causes and breakdowns that led to this crisis to both end the opioid epidemic and prevent a future drug crisis from ever occurring again. In addition to new bills and investigations, more actions have been taken to curb the opioid epidemic this year, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. And Americans across the country can do their part by properly disposing of unused or expired medications.
Earlier this year, bipartisan E&C leaders reached out to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar to get information on overdose and substance use trends and ask how the federal government can help amid concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic is worsening the overdose crisis.
Additionally, Walden and then-Judiciary Committee Republican Leader Doug Collins (R-GA) successfully pushed for a fentanyl analogues ban extension. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that can be deadly in small quantities. The DEA’s ability to go after “fentanyl-related substances” instead of just specific fentanyl formulas the DEA has already banned is an important tool. Without the analogue ban extension, drug traffickers could change the fentanyl formula by one molecule to create a fentanyl analogue that is not banned.
To better understand how funding to combat the opioid crisis is being utilized, Walden and Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review grant funding to better understand where the funds went and the effectiveness of the grants.
To stop opioids from being illegally sold on the internet, a pilot program was put together this year by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Illegal internet sales of opioids were highlighted by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) in a hearing when he questioned Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook’s ads being used as a platform for illegal opioid sales.
As the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act enters into its second year of being law and Americans across the country dispose of unused or expired medications, we are reminded of the sad reality that the opioid crisis continues to claim more than a hundred lives in the United States every day. It will take many more actions building upon previous work to end the opioid crisis once and for all, but working together we can – and will – overcome the opioid epidemic. In the coming days, E&C Republicans will provide additional updates on our efforts to combat the opioid crisis. You can also visit takebackday.dea.gov/ to find a drop-off location in your community.