For Americans, opioids are a primary health concern. In fact, more than one in four (27 percent of) Americans are concerned about the government addressing the opioid epidemic — and rightfully so. Drug overdoses killed 63,632 Americans in 2016 alone, according to analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Their findings further showed that nearly two-thirds of these deaths involved a prescription or illicit opioid.

What needs to change

The opioid epidemic is driving the U.S. government to introduce new legislation that would fund education in addiction medicine, require the U.S. Postal Service to monitor for illicit fentanyl trafficking, aid in the research and development of non-opioid pain therapies and more. All of these initiatives are necessary and positive steps toward the effective treatment and prevention of opioid abuse in this country, but one critical aspect that is notably absent is the accessibility of drug takeback programs.

It’s up to all of us... to break the deadly cycle of drug diversion and, ultimately, end the opioid crisis by emphasizing the unequivocal value of drug takeback programs.

Drug takeback programs — whether they are in the form of self-service, mail-in envelopes or pharmacy- or health care-hosted collection kiosks — are an underused component of opioid eradication. The fact is, less than 3 percent of pharmacies and other entities authorized by the Drug Enforcement Administration to collect unused prescription drugs for disposal have volunteered to do so. What’s more, the vast majority (83 percent) of Americans have never given back unused prescription drugs as part of a drug takeback program. Scarier still, 42 percent of Americans claim to have 1-3 bottles of unused or unneeded prescriptions in their medicine cabinets, which is ultimately opening the potential for opioids to fall into the wrong hands through the illegal diversion, selling and illicit use of prescription medications.

It’s up to all of us — government officials, American citizens and health care leaders alike — to break the deadly cycle of drug diversion and, ultimately, end the opioid crisis by emphasizing the unequivocal value of drug takeback programs. As a leader in solutions for the safe and secure disposal of unused pharmaceuticals, Stericycle is committed to protecting people from opioid addiction.