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U.S. expands prescription drugs return program

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The Drug Enforcement Administration has announced the implementation of a new regulation that will allow hospitals, pharmacies, and clinics to collect unused prescription drugs.

The new regulation is part of the DEA's efforts at addressing the growing prescription drug abuse problem in the United States. In 2013, the number of people taking prescription drugs without a valid medical reason ballooned to around 6.5 million individuals aged 12 years old and above. In 2011, over half of unintentional deaths due to drug overdoses were because of prescription drugs.

"These shocking statistics illustrate that prescription drug addiction and abuse represent nothing less than a public health crisis. And every day, this crisis touches - and devastates - the lives of Americans from every state, in every region and from every background," said Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr.

Aside from accidental deaths, prescription drug use is also seen as a gateway to illegal drugs like heroin. Almost four out of every 10 teens involved in prescription drug abuse got their stash from their parents' unmonitored medicine cabinets.

Michael Botticelli, National Drug Control Policy acting director, said removing unused painkillers from homes will help prevent misuse and dependence from taking hold. Opioid painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin rank as some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs.

In the last four years, there have been eight national take-back events hosted by the DEA. During these events, Americans can drop off expired or unused prescription drugs to prevent their misuse. Over 2,050 tons of prescription drugs have been collected at these take-back events and have subsequently been disposed of. The next take-back event is scheduled for Sept. 27. In the last one done in April, the DEA was able to acquire 390 tons of prescription drugs across almost 6,100 take-back sites.

Before the take-back events were done, people typically disposed of unused prescription drugs by throwing them in the trash or flushing them down the toilet. While this helps prevent prescription drug misuse by removing the source, it poses a different set of threats, those involving children who may find the prescription drugs in the garbage and the environment.

Just last month, the Justice Department ruled that certain kinds of painkillers using opioid hydrocodone as an ingredient should be elevated to Schedule II drug status as guided by the Controlled Substance Act.

Amending the Controlled Substances Act, the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act was signed into law in 2010, paving the way for take-back events for unused prescription drugs.

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