Drug Take Back Day kicks off amid nation's rising addiction, overdose statistics
BATON ROUGE - Before the emergence and spread of COVID-19, the U.S. government was hard at work in fighting another disease, a chronic illness that took the lives of more than 67,000 of the country's citizens in 2018.
Drug addiction, according to The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), is "a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences."
Sadly, the 'harmful consequences' of such abuse often include overdose and death.
Before the coronavirus developed into a global pandemic, the U.S. was in the midst of the deadliest drug overdose epidemic in its history, with a record 71,000 overdose deaths in 2019.
Experts believe this year’s death toll will likely surpass last year's losses.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics reports that by March of this year, an alarming 73,860 overdose deaths occurred in the US.
So, why the extreme uptick in drug abuse and resulting overdose?
Many medical professionals point to the pandemic as a cause.
Jules Netherland of the Prevention's Drug Policy Alliance touched on the subject during a recent interview with the Associated Press, saying, “The new CDC data confirms our fears that COVID-19 is exacerbating the already devastating overdose crisis.”
Considering the nature of addiction, the current increase in the amount of sufferers making the choice to cope with the pandemic by depending on drugs, instead of on healthier measures, is understandable.
The NIH explains that most drugs affect the brain's reward circuit by flooding it with the chemical messenger dopamine. Surges of dopamine in the reward circuit cause the reinforcement of pleasurable but unhealthy activities, leading people to repeat the behavior again and again.
So, at a time when many are attempting to navigate the struggles associated with job loss, ensuing financial difficulties, as well as isolation and anxiety induced by the pandemic, it's logical that a person suffering from addiction, in an effort to find comfort, would return to a product that floods their brain's reward circuit with dopamine- giving them a temporary sense of comfort.
But the temporary fix is often deadly. Locally, recent statistics reveal that an increasing number of East Baton Rouge residents have lost their lives to overdose.
According to the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner, Dr. William 'Beau' Clark, as of October, a total of 194 overdose deaths have occurred in the Parish. Last year, by October, there were 105.
Dr. Clark explained that most overdoses were caused by Fentanyl, Heroin, and Methamphetamine.
When asked why the numbers are increasing, Dr. Clark's response was similar to Netherland's. He said, "I blame a lot of it on COVID. And it's not just the fact that we had the COVID-19 pandemic and some people might have had limited access (to addiction help). It's almost like it was forgotten about ...it wasn't on the minds of the community."
He explained that awareness of the gravity of addiction and the likelihood of overdose among addicts should be promoted.
Dr. Clark told WBRZ, "When the friends and families of addicts are not aware that there are large numbers of deaths due to street narcotics, I believe that they are more complacent in the observation of their loved one’s behaviors. ODs have skyrocketed since all attention was turned to COVID in March."
This month, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is addressing the issue by hosting National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, Oct. 24.
Drug Take Back Day is an opportunity to clean out medicine cabinets and dispose of unwanted, unused and expired medications, preventing drug addiction before it starts.
Collection sites will adhere to local COVID-19 guidelines and regulations in order to maintain the safety of all participants and local law enforcement.
In Baton Rouge, residents can drop off unwanted medications at Baton Rouge Police Headquarters (9000 Airline Highway) between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Saturday.
Those who bring medications to drop off have been instructed that in an effort to maintain COVID-safety, officials will bring a box up to the participant's vehicle and provide them with two options for disposing of medications:
1. Participants can remove their personal information from the medication's label and then simply dump entire bottles with pills into the box provided by officials.
2. Or, participants can simply empty the contents of the medication bottle into the provided box.
It may also be helpful to keep in mind that Drug Take Back Day does not accept syringes, needles, inhalers (such as those for asthma), aerosol cans, mercury thermometers, iodine-containing medications, any illegal drugs or substances (including marijuana which is still a schedule 1 drug under federal law), and any prescription medications obtained illegally.
Other collection locations in south Louisiana are listed below:
-Baker Police Department
-Baton Rouge DEA
-East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office
-Walker Police Department
-Plaquemine Police Department
-St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office
-West Feliciana Parish Sheriff’s Office
If you don't see a location near you listed above, click here to find additional sites with the help of the DEA's Collection Site Finder.
And, if you can't make it to the event, click here to learn how to properly dispose of unwanted medications at home.
Additionally, those suffering from addiction, or those who wish to assist loved ones suffering from addiction can reach out to The Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) via its 24-hour National Treatment Referral Hotline (1-800-662-HELP), which offers information and referral services.
Help can also be found from American Addiction Centers by calling 1-877-959-3801.
Click here for more information on fighting addiction amid the pandemic.