There's No Single Cause Behind The Overdose Epidemic

Shawn Canterbury, Director, Drug Stewardship, Healthcare Solutions | April 26, 2024


There’s a reason you see and hear so much about fentanyl; its potency as an opioid is surpassed only by its ability to damage public health when illicitly manufactured, distributed and misused. But, with stories of fentanyl-fueled tragedy dominating the news, it’s easy to overlook the fact that our nation’s health faces a significant threat from another, very close-at-hand source -- the diversion of drugs stored at home. A look at available data, however, reveals how “loss of custody” of medications at the household level is contributing to the current health emergency.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were almost 132 million opioid prescriptions dispensed in the US in 2022 while, for that same year, a nationwide survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found there were 1.3 million new misusers of prescription pain relievers among people aged 12 or older. Of these, 44.6 percent either took them or bought them -- or were given them -- by a friend or relative.

The logical origin of many of these diverted and then illicitly distributed drugs is the family medicine cabinet as Inmar’s 2023 Consumer Drug Take-Back Consumer Survey found just under 60 percent of respondents holding leftover, unused, expired or unwanted medication in their homes. And with almost 47 percent of those surveyed admitting they monitor their stored medication only once a year -- or even less frequently -- the risk of diversion is obvious.

The disturbing numbers show clearly the need for universal participation in approved consumer drug take-back programs that help prevent the diversion and misuse of properly prescribed medications by providing families with convenient, and compliant, drug disposal. It is a serious call to action for all of us to make full use of this initiative for ensuring unneeded medications are removed from circulation and no longer able to cause harm to individuals or the environment.

Facilitated by both pharma manufacturers and community pharmacies, consumer drug take-back programs are helping make our communities safer and the really good news is that they’re becoming increasingly available. Inmar, alone, manages more than 6,400 collection kiosks across the United States. There’s more to do, but our numbers -- more than 2.4 million pounds destroyed -- show that we’re making important, measurable progress.

Just as there is no single cause behind the overdose epidemic, there is no single answer to it. However, by mitigating drug diversion at the household level through consumer drug take-back, and improved awareness around the need for proper disposal, opioid misuse and abuse can be averted and lives can be saved.

Shawn Canterbury, Director, Drug Stewardship, Healthcare Solutions