With overdoses soaring, here's a way to save lives: Give back your prescription drugs

Mayor Nutter takes another look at the winning wrapper design, by Michael Bodenberger. for a Philly-backed condom to address rising STD rates. Alejandro A. Alvarez / Philadelphia Daily News

Habits that wreak havoc with your health — eating too much sugar, getting too little sleep — can be hard to break, and other people often can’t help all that much.

Addiction is even tougher.

Abuse of prescription drugs, particularly highly addictive painkillers, has soared over the last decade, devastating some towns and leading the Obama administration last week to announce a national campaign against them at all levels of government.  Prescription-drug overdoses now exceed those during the epidemics of cocaine in the 1980s and of black-tar heroin in the 1970s combined, according to federal officials.

If there is a silver lining, it might be this: You can help.

Unlike cocaine and heroin, from which the average reader of this column might feel far removed, many of the prescription opioids fueling the current epidemic come from your average suburban medicine cabinet — swiped by children, borrowed by neighbors, or swallowed by the intended patients, but for unintended reasons years later.

Getting rid of them — safely — avoids temptation. In September, the first National Prescription Drug Take Back Day collected 121 tons of pills. Local participation was robust; Delaware County alone took in 277 pounds.

It is happening again, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 30, with at least 175 sites in the eight-county region. They will be staffed by law enforcement (no questions asked), and most are at police departments, although supermarkets, churches, and a congressional office are among the locations.

Find a site near you.

While some of the increased abuse of opioid painkillers likely reflects the misguided belief that they are safer than illicit drugs, part also is probably due to greater access and availability, researchers wrote this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Narcotic prescriptions for youths nearly doubled between 1994 and 2007, a Pediatrics paper reported last year. The new analysis found that 12 percent of opioid prescriptions — the vast majority for drugs containing hydrocodone and oxycodone — were written for people ages 10 to 29.

“The scope of the problem is vast,” said coauthor Thomas McLellan, formerly the No. 2 White House drug policy official and now director of the Center for Substance Abuse Solutions at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “Opioid overdose is now the second-leading cause of accidental death in the United States.”


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