Reducing prescriptions and encouraging proper disposal of unused medicines through national Drug Take Back Days will help address diversion issues and drug abuse.
Like many states across the country, Washington continues to struggle with an epidemic of opioid abuse. The headlines are filled with stories of how misuse of these drugs tears apart families and communities — large and small, urban, suburban and rural.
WSDA and its member dentists have worked hard to help address this problem. They were actively engaged in state rulemaking to assist with the development of new prescribing guidelines for opioids and went a step further to develop more stringent guidelines when prescribing for special patient populations.
Now, thanks to a new board resolution (HD-12-2019, available at wsda.org/hod) adopted at this year’s House of Delegates, they’re committing to doing even more.
Reducing the number of opioids prescribed in the first place is one critical step in reducing opportunities for abuse. But an equally important effort is to reduce the number of prescription drugs that remain after patients no longer need them. Doing that requires the safe disposal of unused medications.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that diversion — use of a prescription medication by someone other than the person for whom it was prescribed — is a major factor in drug abuse. The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health backed up that conclusion, reporting that an estimated 6 million Americans misuse controlled prescription drugs, and that a majority of those abused drugs came from family and friends, often without their knowledge.
Diversion of opioids and other prescription medications can result in youth access to drugs, the onset of opioid use disorder (OUD), accidental poisoning or overdose, and intentional overdose or suicide. Beyond the human cost, these drugs also pose environmental threats to water, land and animals.
But when potentially dangerous prescription drugs can be found as close by as the family medicine cabinet, how can they be kept out of the hands of those looking to use them for another purpose other their intended use?
One successful strategy developed and employed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is the organization of Drug Take Back Days in local communities across the country. Working with community partners, the DEA holds biannual events to collect excess opioids and other unused medications and disposed of them safely.
Over the past nine years, more than 12 million pounds of these drugs have been collected at National Take Back Day events.
According to Ricard Quintero, a diversion program manager with the DEA who spoke on this issue to the House of Delegates, Drug Take Back Days are an important strategy in the agency’s comprehensive campaign against prescription drug abuse.
“In addition to providing individuals with a safe, convenient, responsible and anonymous way to dispose of unwanted prescription drugs, DEA’s Take Back promotes and encourages educational outreach to the public on the abuse potential of opioids and other potentially addictive medications,” he said.
That’s where WSDA member dentists and the new house resolution come in. As respected health-care professionals, local dentists can help get the word out to patients and the broader community regarding the importance of safely disposing of unused or expired opioids and other prescription medications.
“Dentistry is a distinguished profession, and dentists have the authority to prescribe, dispense and administer a controlled substance,” Quintero said. “Across the country, they are beginning to take a greater role in the Take Back program, and we hope they will continue to partner with their local law enforcement community and help inform their patients that all unwanted medication can be disposed of safely through the program.”
The WSDA house resolution calls for WSDA and local dental societies to do just that: Partner with DEA and other community organizations on these events, as appropriate, including promoting them on their websites, social media platforms, newsletters and other member communications, and to work with local media to get the word out. It also commits the association to develop resources for member dentists to use with their patients, and to share resources on alternatives to opioids for pain management.
“We will be moving quickly to get resources to members to help them support Drug Take Back Days in their communities,” said Kainoa Trotter, assistant executive director for the WSDA.
WSDA board member Dr. Amy Cook, of Cook Family Dentistry in Auburn, has been working on this issue and is a strong supporter of the Take Back Day program. She echoes what the DEA’s Quintero says about the important role dentists can play in making these days successful and getting more opioids off the street.
“If we are serious about removing the free source of highly addictive medications in our communities, we must, as a profession, be committed to educating patients about the need to dispose of unused medications, and how to do that,” she said. “Of course, patients can and should dispose of unused medications throughout the year, but promoting these biannual DEA Take Back Days is a great start.”
National Drug Take Back Days are held in October and April of each year. At each, law enforcement agencies work with community organizations to provide convenient drop-off locations, where the medications are received, carefully stored, and then removed for disposal. Look for more information and tools coming from WSDA as the next event approaches in April.
“It’s hard to overemphasize how important it is that we get opioids that are no longer needed or being used out of our homes and out of our communities,” Cook said. “Convenient access — for those looking to use the drugs or to sell them to someone who will — is one of the biggest problems we have to overcome.”
“It’s a problem we have to fight on many fronts. This is one important one.”
WSDA member dentists have committed themselves to helping in that fight.
Ways You Can Help Promote Drug Take Back Days in Your Community
There are lots of ways that you can help make a Drug Take Back event more successful, helping to get more opioids out of your community. Here are some ideas:
- Contact local law enforcement agencies to make sure they are organizing a local event
- Make a point of talking about the event with all patients visiting your office
- Display/hand out promotional materials regarding an event in your area
- Include information about the event in your patient statements
- Mention the event at meetings you attend such as at your church, service club, CE events, etc.
- Make sure that local schools and PTA groups know about the event
- Send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper (WSDA has templates for your use)
- Contact other local media, including radio and TV stations and digital news sources
- Mention the event on your Facebook, Twitter or other social media accounts — more than once
- Tell your neighbors
- Volunteer your time at the event if requested