One of America’s most devastating health care crises often begins in the most benign of locations — home medicine cabinets.
Our nation is becoming increasingly aware of the growing number of hospitalizations and casualties tied to prescription drug abuse. This problem is particularly acute among young adults. In 2014, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly five individuals between the ages of 18 and 24 died every day, on average, from prescription drug overdoses. For every death, there were nearly 120 emergency room visits. The ease with which these young men and women get their hands on painkilling medications is particularly concerning. More than six out of 10 acquired the pills without ever having to leave home.
One source of this problem is easy to see. When we’re prescribed opioids after knee surgery or a root canal, for example, it is common for some pills to be left in the bottle when we feel better and no longer need them. But those drugs, all too often, stay in our medicine cabinet, or on top of a bedroom dresser or in the kitchen. Unused and often forgotten medications left where anyone can access them pose a serious health threat.
A Johns Hopkins School of Public Health study found that more than half of Americans who are prescribed opioids have leftover pills. A majority of those individuals don’t know or are not informed how to safely store or dispose of them. Clearly, we — and by “we,” I mean a broad coalition of governmental policymakers, community leaders, law enforcement and the healthcare industry — need to build upon existing efforts to do a better job of providing patients and families a safe, environmentally responsible way to dispose of unused medications.
At Mallinckrodt, we are dedicated to providing safe and effective medications for patients, and we are committed to working with policymakers, law enforcement officials and the industry to address the complex issues of opioid addiction and abuse.
This year alone, we have purchased and are donating more than one million drug deactivation and disposal pouches to community groups, law enforcement, schools, patients and families. These systems deactivate prescription drugs and make the chemical compounds in the pills safe for landfills. The pouches also are biodegradable. We’re working with community leaders and organizations to distribute these pouches where they can have the most benefit.
We are also committed to raising public awareness of the critical role of responsible drug disposal in the fight against prescription drug abuse.
While effective, this is just one step. Additional actions need to be taken. The pharmaceutical industry needs to continue its work on tamper-resistant and abuse-deterrent drug delivery technologies, while lawmakers and regulators craft the standards that will enable their adoption. We must improve the integration of state and federal prescription drug monitoring programs and share best practices for detecting suspicious drug orders at the manufacturing and supply chain stages.
We should enhance drug take-back and addiction rehabilitation programs, while doing a better job overall of educating patients, healthcare providers and the public about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. And, we should consider the use of alternatives to opioids when medically appropriate. Mallinckrodt is committed to these types of efforts and encourages others to take action as well.
Attacking the problem of prescription drug abuse requires a sustained, multi-faceted effort. By taking both common sense and innovative steps to make opioids less accessible for non-medical uses, we can reduce the number of ER cases and tragic, unnecessary deaths. We must eliminate the possibility that prescription drug abuse, misuse or diversion begins in the home medicine cabinet.