Ms. COLLINS. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Servicemembers and Veterans Prescription Drug Safety Act of 2013, with my colleagues Senators Blumenthal, Boxer, Manchin, Murkowski, and Boozman. This bill would require the Attorney General to establish drug take-back programs in coordination with both the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The number of reported suicide deaths in the U.S. military surged to a record 349 in 2012, which is more than the number of servicemembers who lost their lives in combat while serving our nation in Afghanistan during the same period of time. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the number of suicides among veterans has reached an astounding rate of 22 each day based on data collected from more than 21 states.
These losses are unacceptable. We are losing dozens of America's finest each month, squandering precious talent that our nation needs and depriving families of their loved ones. Today's soldiers are tomorrow's veterans; their mental health needs must be met now to avoid future suicides.
There is substantial evidence that prescription drug abuse is a major factor in military and veteran suicides. In its 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, anti-anxiety medicine, anti-psychotics, and other controlled substances such as opioids.
This report recommended the establishment of a military drug take-back program to help combat prescription drug abuse in the ranks. Given that more than 49,000 soldiers were issued three or more psychotropic or controlled substance prescriptions last year, and an estimated 3,500 soldiers illicitly used prescription drugs, it is past time we act on this recommendation and implement a military drug take-back program.
In Afghanistan, we have invested billions of dollars and devoted some of the military's best minds to protect our soldiers and give them the tools they need to reduce the threat of an improvised explosive devise attack. Unfortunately, we have not focused sufficient resources or creativity to suicide prevention. While I applaud the military's, and especially the Army's, and VA's efforts to address this threat seriously, we must do more.
At present, only the Drug Enforcement Administration, DEA, has the inherent authority to conduct a drug take-back program. Three years ago, the Congress passed the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010, which provided the Attorney General the flexibility necessary to delegate similar authority to other agencies for the collection and disposal of controlled substances. Since that time, the Attorney General has not sufficiently exercised his existing authority to provide this much needed assistance to the Department of Defense and the VA. The DEA recently proposed new regulations to expand the options available to collect controlled substances for purposes of disposal. Unfortunately, the proposed regulations fall short because they fail to authorize the Department of Defense or the VA to collect controlled substances through appropriate mechanisms.
DEA has concerns that DOD and VA cannot maintain the same strict accountability of drugs to prevent the misuse, abuse, or sales in the black market. I am confident, however, that the DOD--the institution that has developed and implemented programs for the handling of nuclear weapons and classified information--and the VA are capable of conducting drug take-back programs with the utmost accountability and highest of standards.
Excluding the DOD and VA from conducting drug take-back programs is detrimental to efforts to reduce controlled substance abuse, decrease non-medical use of prescription drugs, prevent diversion of controlled substances, and limit the possibility for accidental overdose and death for our servicemembers and veterans, or their family members. This legislation will provide the necessary authority to give both departments an effective drug-take back program that will help address the scourge of suicide.
The loss of even one servicemember or veteran to a potentially preventable suicide involving controlled substance abuse or misuse is unacceptable. I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass this important, life-saving legislation.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT