It is difficult to convey the scope and despair of the opioid crisis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 70,000 drug overdose deaths occurred last year in the United States, more than half of them involving opioids. That is more American deaths than in the entire Vietnam War. Nearly every day in 2018, one Mississippian died from a drug overdose. Further, a study by the American Enterprise Institute shows that this scourge costs our state $2.2 billion annually, or 2.1 percent of Mississippi’s total gross domestic product.
This crisis demands a national response, and I have collaborated with the Administration to take action. Working with Congress, President Trump signed a thorough legislative package targeting the international shipment of opioids and providing grants to states, cities, and community organizations to promote treatment and rehabilitation and to prevent drug misuse.
The solution will not come entirely from Washington. In fact, it starts closer to home. In the medicine cabinet.
Get Pills Out of Our Cabinets
Opioid addiction began for many individuals in a medical setting. Drugs are often prescribed for real pain, but their addictive nature sometimes leads to abuse. Many of these pills have also been lost or stolen, ending up in unintended hands.
On April 19th, I led a drug take back event with U.S. Attorney Michael Hurst at the Canton Mart Walgreens in Jackson. It took place in advance of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on April 27. These events provide opportunities for people to turn in – safely, anonymously, and with no questions asked – unneeded prescription drugs. Getting unused pills out of our cabinets and off the streets curbs potential opioid abuse.
I also met Sidney Smith at the Jackson event. He told his story about being addicted to drugs for 27 years and spending more than a decade behind bars. Thanks to a faith-based program called the Adult & Teen Challenge, Mr. Smith was able to turn his life around and get sober. He is now in graduate school studying social work to help those who struggle as he once did.
That this event happened on Good Friday made it all the more memorable. The story of grace that is Easter is a reminder of the power of redemption and the love we owe to our fellow man. As Mr. Hurst said, “The public is the first line of defense.”
Ask Your Local Pharmacist
National Prescription Drug Take Back Day comes once a year. Since the fall of 2010, the DEA has collected almost 11,000,000 pounds of unwanted pills nationally that will not become parts of the cycle of drug abuse. That is almost four pounds of prescriptions per person in Mississippi.
Governments, social organizations, and individuals forming little platoons can turn the tide on the opioid epidemic. Groups like Adult & Teen challenge are formed by staff and volunteers who want to end addiction. There are also private sector partners, like Walgreens, who work together with residents to clean up our communities. Many other local pharmacies provide bins where anyone can bring unnecessary medications throughout the year, not just on special days.