U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer stopped at a Slate Hill pharmacy Thursday, to push for rule changes to let pharmacies take back unused prescription drugs.
Schumer, D-NY, said at a press conference at the NeighboRX Pharmacy that this could lead to more pills being turned in — people would feel more comfortable going to their pharmacist than to a take-back event at a police station.
Many people have unused painkillers in their homes, the result of overprescription for dental surgery and other common ailments. Having fewer pills in people’s medicine cabinets, he said, would drive down their use by teenagers — 70 percent of prescription drug abusers get them from homes, only 5 percent from a drug dealer, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Pills are also a common target for burglars, he said.
“(Thieves) don’t look for your jewelry box,” he said. “They’re looking for your medicine cabinet.”
A 2010 federal law authorized the Drug Enforcement Administration to develop regulations to allow other entities, including pharmacies, to take back and dispose of pills, but the DEA hasn’t made the changes yet. The state passed a law this year allowing pharmacies to take back unused pills, but it’s pending the federal changes.
Eventually, Schumer said, he wants to see prescription drug buy backs, similar to gun buy backs, paid for with drug assets seizure money. The DEA could allow this with administrative rule changes, he said; you wouldn’t need congressional action.
Abuse of prescription drugs — mostly opiate painkillers – has been rising nationwide; local police agencies are seeing more prescription drug-related crimes, and Orange County has one of the highest overdose rates north of the Bronx, behind only Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo, according to the Upstate New York Poison Control Center.
Schumer has made fighting abuse of prescription opiates one of his major issues over the past few years. He said he thinks the government needs to be proactive in fighting it — unlike with crack cocaine in the 1980s, where the government didn’t get a handle on the problem and the new drug ravaged America’s inner cities for a decade.
One risk of pills like hydrocodone and oxycodone is that they can provide an easy gateway for youths to eventual heroin abuse, said Jim Conklin, executive director of the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Council of Orange County. There’s no needles at first, and the pills are perceived as safer since they’re legal with a prescription.
“The initial exposure is easier,” he said.
But the active ingredient is the same as heroin, and you can become physically addicted the same way. Some pill users, he said, end up using heroin, which is both far cheaper than pills and more readily available on the street.
“That makes treatment difficult,” he said.