Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) today introduced a bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and John Boozman (R-AR), that seeks to address the issue of prescription drug abuse among our nation's servicemembers and veterans. The Servicemembers and Veterans Prescription Drug Safety Act would direct the Attorney General to establish drug take-back programs in coordination with the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Under current law, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has the authority to designate authorized collectors of controlled substances through drug-take back programs for the purpose of safe disposal. The DEA, however, has failed to work with the DoD and VA to provide our nation's servicemembers and veterans with reasonable access to appropriate mechanisms for the safe return and disposal of prescription medications, similar to those the DEA has proposed to provide through retail pharmacies. Since many DoD and VA facilities do not operate retail pharmacies, the DEA's proposed regulations are not sufficient for the needs of our servicemembers and veterans.
Astoundingly, the number of reported suicide deaths among servicemembers reached 349 in 2012. Moreover, according to data collected by the Department of Veterans Affairs from 21 states, 22 veterans take their own lives each day.
In a January 2012 report, "Army 2020: Generating Health and Discipline in the Force," the Army found that 29 percent of suicides involved individuals with a known history of psychotropic medication use, including anti-depressants, and pain medicine, such as opioids. The report recommended the establishment of a military drug take-back program to help combat prescription drug misuse or abuse in the ranks.
"The suicide rate among our active duty servicemembers and our veterans is not only deeply disturbing, it is absolutely unacceptable," Senator Collins said. "The data suggest that prescription drug abuse is a salient factor in many of these cases. By simply giving our servicemembers and veterans access to facilities where they can dispose of prescriptions that are no longer needed, we can help save lives."
"This legislation would help prevent veterans and servicemembers faced with mental health challenges from falling victim to substance abuse by giving them the opportunity to more easily dispose of unused and unwanted prescription drugs at VA and DOD health facilities," Senator Blumenthal said. "Veterans should be able to dispose of their prescriptions at the facilities that prescribed them in the first place."
"We must do everything we can to stop the abuse of prescription drugs by offering safe disposal options for our service members, veterans, and their families," Senator Boxer said.
"Prescription drug abuse is devastating to communities across West Virginia and this country. The alarming increase among veterans and service members in the past several years is equally troubling," Senator Manchin said. "Drug take-back programs are an opportunity to safely dispose of extra pills and medications and spread awareness of this critical issue. Let's continue to work together so that West Virginia and our beautiful country can have strong, drug-free communities that are able to take care of our brave veterans and service members."
"America lost more veterans to suicide than we did in Afghanistan last year - 65% involving the use of drugs - which is a preventable epidemic we must take every action possible to counter," said Senator Murkowski. "The VA has acknowledged that overmedicating our veterans is doing them a disservice by not allowing them to fully heal and can lead to counterproductive, depressed thoughts and behaviors. Giving our men and women in uniform an avenue to return unneeded and dangerous drugs removes a threat from their own medicine cabinets."
"Many of our veterans struggle with dependencies on prescription drugs. Drug take-back programs designed specifically for service members offer a safe option to dispose of old or unneeded medications to help reduce the risk of developing addictions to prescription drugs," Senator Boozman said. "This legislation is a common sense tool that will help reduce the misuse of medications for those who serve in uniform."