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Schumer Calls On DEA: Restore Rx Take-Back Day

WAMC Composite Image by Dave Lucas

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer is urging the Drug Enforcement Agency to keep a program he says reduces crime and saves lives.  

Schumer is asking the DEA to reverse its discontinuation of the National Prescription Take Back Day, a twice a year initiative where prescription drugs are collected then safely disposed of.   "In New York State 38,000 pounds, 17.3 tons were collected on one day, so the program is highly effective."

Many attest to the collection drive's success. Assistant Special Agent In-Charge for DEA operations in upstate New York James Burns did in Albany during last year's Take Back Day:   "Opiate abuse is rampant in both the Capital District and in our nation as a whole. These takebacks help us get diverted opiates off the street, and in the last seven takebacks we've taken almost 30,000 pounds of unwanted medication off the streets, and over 10,000 people have participated in that."

But the DEA says it doesn’t have plans to hold any further Take Back Days. On its website, the agency says “in order to give authorized collectors the opportunity to provide this valuable service to their communities."  For many people, their first foray into opiates is often via the home medicine cabinet. The heroin epidemic has been fueled by use and abuse of prescription drugs.  Schumer has  numbers:   "CDC nationwide says 70 percent of those hooked on a prescription medication got them from home or a family member first."

The DEA recently released its National Heroin Threat Assessment report. Agency officials say the heroin user population is growing at a faster rate than any other drug, describing contemporary heroin users as "younger, more affluent and more diverse than ever before."

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple says despite recent busts in the Capital Region, the heroin trade is growing.    "Unfortunately, the drug is very prevalent right now, and it's really inexpensive, and there's too much money in it. It's not going away. We need to continue to keep that attention on it."

Schumer used half a year's worth of statistics — opioid-related overdoses throughout New York — to support his call to re-instate Take Back Days:    "79 in the Capital Region, 151 in western New York, 134 in central New York, 109 in the Finger Lakes, 88 in the Southern Tier, 107 in the Hudson Valley, 43 in the North Country, that's more than one a day!"

The ninth and final National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day was held during September 2014. The DEA has developed and implemented regulations that outline methods the public and long-term care facilities can use to transfer controlled substances and other prescription drugs to authorized collectors (which can include medical facilities and pharmacies) for the purpose of disposal.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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