Will Pain Patients Participate in Drug Take Back Day?

By Pat Anson, Editor

Tomorrow is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, an annual effort by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to give people an opportunity to safely dispose of their unneeded and expired medications.

Last year the DEA and its local law enforcement partners collected nearly 900,000 pounds of unwanted medication – about 447 tons – at almost 5,400 collection sites in all 50 states.

“These results show that more Americans than ever are taking the important step of cleaning out their medicine cabinets and making homes safe from potential prescription drug abuse or theft,” said DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg in a news release.

One of the main goals of the DEA is to get patients to dispose of unneeded opioid medication, to prevent the drugs from being stolen, shared or sold.

But with opioid medciation becoming harder to obtain due to federal and state guidelines – and the DEA itself reducing the supply of hydrocodone, oxycodone, and other painkillers by 25 percent or more --   are chronic pain patients going to participate in Drug Take Back Day?

A recent survey of over 3,100 patients by Pain News Network and the International Pain Foundation suggests that many will not. And that government efforts to limit the supply of opioids have turned many responsible patients into hoarders.

Nearly one in four patients – 22 percent – say they are hoarding opioid medications because they’re not sure if they’ll be able to get them in the future.

Nearly half say they are being prescribed a lower dose since the CDC released its controversial opioid guidelines, and almost one in four say they are no longer prescribed any opioids.

“The CDC guidelines have led to a lot of confusion and fear for patients and their doctors. If anything, I ask for more pain medication now because I don't know how much longer I'll be able to obtain it,” one patient wrote.

“I never abused my opiates and in fact have hoarded 30 precious pills,” said another patient.

“I am 65 years old, well educated, and very disabled by (fibromyalgia). I endure the pain, for as long as possible, (and only) then take the meds due to having to hoard the medication,” wrote another.

“It's a no win situation," said a patient. "To be able to get proper relief from a new injury or if surgery comes up, one must hoard enough to treat the additional pain or suffer through it.”

Although the supply of opioid medication has been in decline for years, the news media often makes it sound like painkillers are still being given out like candy, often relying on outdated or inaccurate information that doesn't reflect the current environment.

“The amount of prescription opioids consumed has quadrupled since 1999, and deaths are even higher. Since eight out of ten new heroin users began by abusing prescription painkillers, and most get their pills from family and friends, controlling access to the pills becomes increasingly important,” Judy Stone, MD, wrote in a Forbes article promoting Drug Take Back Day.

Yes, Dr. Stone, it is true that opioid overdoses are soaring, but in recent years that is primarily due to heroin and illicit fentanyl, not prescription opioids. Even the CDC admits that painkillers are no longer driving the opioid epidemic.

The DEA also tells us that less than one percent of legally prescribed painkillers are diverted, which means that 99% of pain patients are responsible about their use and storage of pain medication. Only a small percentage of patients become addicted to opioids and even fewer go on to use heroin.

All of which isn’t to say that Drug Take Back Day is a bad idea. But let’s not use it as another opportunity to stigmatize chronically ill patients who happen to need pain medication.

To find a drug collection site near you, click here.