Opinion Editorial, Tampa Bay Times

We often hear talk of “taking drugs off the street,” but it might be even more important to get drugs out of our medicine cabinets. Each year, there are 30 million prescriptions for controlled substance dispensed in Florida. About half of the prescriptions issued may go unused, leaving unused drugs available for youth experimentation, senior citizens with aging health issues or desperate people struggling with addiction.

The Florida Legislature is currently considering legislation, HB 1091 sponsored by Rep. Michael Caruso, R-Boca Raton, and SB 1442 sponsored by Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, that ensures opioids are dispensed at the pharmacy with the means to deactivate and then safely and simply dispose of any unused pills. Both bills have passed their first committee stop with unanimous and bipartisan votes.

I know firsthand this is a great initiative, and I can speak from experience it works. Wide availability of drug deactivation and disposal systems serves as a powerful tool in the campaign against opioid addiction and overdose, an epidemic costing us 15 Floridians every single day.

One reason people don’t dispose of unused drugs is not realizing the danger they pose. Drug takeback days educate the public and spread awareness, but are not the everyday tools needed to fight the epidemic. Permanent drop boxes are helpful; however they are often located at local sheriff’s office and access is not always easy and hours of operation make availability sometimes restrictive.

Leading at-home disposal kits give patients the ability to destroy unused drugs within minutes and then safely dispose of them in the household trash. Safe prescription disposal kits neutralize and destroy the active drug ingredients. Additionally, they eliminate the threat to our groundwater posed by flushing. Studies show patients are four times more likely to properly dispose of unused drugs if they have access to a disposal system like those described in Rep. Caruso’s and Sen. Boyd’s legislation.

The Hernando Community Coalition has distributed more than 40,000 of these since 2015, and they have made a real impact on our community. In 2019, there were 327 prescription drug-related deaths in District 5, which consists of Hernando, Lake, Citrus, Marion and Sumter counties. There were also 56 heroin-related deaths and 20 fentanyl-related deaths. These numbers have declined from the previous year from our ability to distribute disposal kits free of charge to patients since 2015.

This clearly shows that Safe Rx disposal kits are making an impact to reduce the problem. I said that to the Florida Legislature as well. In 2019, I presented this solution to several Florida legislators, including providing State Rep. Mike Caruso with sample disposal kits. I’m appreciative that he has taken action on our recommendation, and that this recommendation was included in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Task Force findings.

At the Hernando Community Coalition, we are especially concerned about the effects these drugs have not just on children, but on newborns. In 2018, 142 out of every 10,000 live births in my Hernando County were babies with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome is a withdrawal syndrome that can occur in newborns exposed to certain substances, including opioids, during pregnancy. We can stop this from happening by preventing addiction before it starts, by ensuring we install safeguards to reduce the availability to misuse legally prescribed but unused opioids, which is often how Floridians become addicted.

Florida legislators are considering a simple, inexpensive solution that could prevent many babies from being born with withdrawals and save 15 Floridians’ lives every day. They should act quickly and without delay and get this important legislation to the governor this session.

Tresa Watson is executive director of the Hernando Community Coalition, which is a collective voice working towards the health and wellness of all community members.