Take Back Day: A Time to Unite, Remind, and Refocus

April 23, 2021

By Catharine Cypher

Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has consumed the attention of medical professionals and public policy development across our Nation.  By prolonging lockdowns in an attempt to mitigate one crisis, some state and local leaders were unwittingly feeding another– the opioid crisis, the deadliest epidemic in our Nation’s history.  In 2017, then-President Trump declared a nationwide public health emergency to directly address the opioid crisis.  But now, as deaths continue to rise, where are our Nation’s leaders today on this issue?

While the opioid crisis is not a new problem, the COVID- 19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenge of helping those who are struggling with addiction. This is why in October 2020 the Trump Administration issued an executive order on “Saving Lives through Increased Support for Mental and Behavioral Health Needs,” which had a special emphasis on helping individuals most susceptible to worsening mental and behavioral health from prolonged lockdowns. Despite attempting to address the issue with increased funding, President Biden has been nearly silent regarding policy development. When compared to the last administration, he has failed to bring national awareness to the real impact this epidemic has on communities. This is particularly concerning when American cities like San Francisco have reported that overdose deaths tripled those from COVID-19 in 2020

Drug overdose has been the leading cause of accidental death in the United States since 1999, and today, that number has over quadrupled since that time. For those struggling with addiction, relapse can be a normal part of recovery with relapse rates varying between 40-60%, but in the era of COVID-19, experts are suggesting these numbers could be much higher. New provisional data released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 87,203 drug overdose deaths from October 2019 through September 2020, a 29% increase from the previous 12-month period. That is an unprecedented average of 240 overdose deaths per day, which – to put it in perspective – is the equivalent of a packed Boeing 787 Dreamliner falling from the sky every day. If that was happening, Americans would be outraged and demand answers.  

 Unfortunately, the current administration’s response is much different from the Trump Administration, which was quick to respond to the opioid crisis when taking office. In fact, by March of 2017, President Trump had established a commission to address the crisis and establish comprehensive solutions. By 2018, these prevention and outreach priorities, paired with legislative action, resulted in the first decrease in opioid deaths our Nation has seen in nearly three decades. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic reversed the country’s forward momentum, but Take Back Day gives us an opportunity to re-affirm our commitment to making communities healthier and safer for generations to come.  

This Saturday, April 24th marks the 20th nationwide Prescription Drug Take Back Day hosted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Each April and October, the DEA partners with law enforcement, tech companies, and pharmacies to set up “take back” locations in over 6,000 communities nationwide. Over the past eleven years, Take Back Day has collected 13.7 million pounds of unused, expired, or unwanted prescription drugs, showcasing the incredible prevention efforts that can be accomplished through public-private partnerships. 

In addition to important efforts like Take Back Day, broadening access to buprenorphine, an effective and evidence-based medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction, is one way for the country to refocus. On January 15, 2021, the Trump Administration, after months of bipartisan and private sector collaboration on ways to improve treatment, made it easier for doctors to prescribe buprenorphine. Unfortunately, the Biden Administration quickly reversed the guidance drawing much criticism, particularly from physicians. Yet they have now listed the removal of unnecessary barriers to prescribing buprenorphine to their administration priorities - which begs the question: was the removal of the Trump Administration’s plan political in nature?

Now more than ever, our communities need the White House, our elected officials, and private sector leaders to come together to once again advance sound solutions. Take Back Day is an ideal launching board to put America back on track to ending the opioid epidemic once and for all. 

The best way to combat drug addiction is by preventing dangerous consumption to begin with. Keep in mind that drug disposal is not limited to two days a year, it should be a regular safety precaution we take in our homes – ensuring the safety of children and other at-risk individuals. Nobody will be able to solve our Nation’s opioid crisis alone. It will take prevention steps by each of us to ensure a brighter future for all.

Catharine Cypher is a Policy Analyst in the Center for the American Child at the America First Policy Institute.  Catharine previously served as a Special Assistant to the President during the Trump Administration.