Ms. Klobuchar: Madam President, I rise today to urge the Drug Enforcement Administration to issue the Final Rule necessary to implement the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010. I note that year, Madam President, 2010, because that is the year this bipartisan bill was passed. What it does is it provides consumers with safe and responsible ways to dispose of unused prescription medications and controlled substances. And I want to thank Senator Cornyn, who is a cosponsor, the lead cosponsor on the Republican side of this legislation, as well as Senator Grassley, Senator Brown for working with me on the legislation.
The important law expands safe disposal options for individuals and for long-term care facilities and it promotes the development and expansion of prescription drug take-back programs. And as you know, Madam President, this simply means that when you get prescription drugs and you don't use all of them or your doctor prescribes something else, that you don't just leave them in your medicine cabinet where someone else might be taking them. Instead, you find a safe place to dispose of them so someone else doesn't start taking them and potentially get hooked on the drugs.
Now why did I mention 2010? Well, 2010 was the year that the president, President Obama, signed this bill into law. It has now been four years – four years -- as we've awaited the rules. And I’ll describe why, but I think it is time to put this law into action. The D.E.A. issued a proposed rule in December 2012. Unfortunately that took two years and there were comments then about making sure the rules work for our long-term care facilities. You can imagine there are a lot of prescription drugs at long-term care facilities and the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs. These issues should be addressed in the Final Rule. And it's time now to get the rules done so that we have more options to easily and safely dispose of our prescription drugs. I know that the Final Rule is now at the Office of Management and Budget for their approval. I have spoken to them about this rule and I’m also aware they have only had the rule for 35 days, so they are not really the ones that have been holding this up. They have 90 days to get this out, and they pledged that they hope to get this done.
We need to get the rule done and let me tell you why. As a former prosecutor, I’ve seen firsthand the devastating impact that drug addiction has on families and communities. During my eight years as Chief Prosecutor in Hennepin County, the largest county in our state, drug cases made up about one-third of the caseload. Most Americans know that we have a problem with serious drugs, but what most Americans may not know is that it is one of our most serious drug problems is in fact drugs that are in the medicine cabinet, drugs that are prescribed legally. Within those cabinets are some of the most addictive prescription drugs out there, like painkillers and beta blockers. Prescription drugs like these are some of the most commonly abused drugs, and people are surprised by this but they're ahead of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine in many states.
Teenagers abuse prescription drugs more than any other drug and the majority of teens who use these drugs get them for free. They get them in that medicine cabinet or more likely a friend gets them from their mom or dad's medicine cabinet often without the knowledge of the person that has it. I think we all know many leftover drugs are lying around. You go to see the dentist for surgery and they prescribe you something for pain. You feel okay, you only take one or two and then you have ten left, and they're just sitting in the medicine cabinet.
We used to tell people, Madam President, to flush these drugs down the toilet. This is not a good idea for our water supply, and I think most people know that. Some people will tell you that the proper way to dispose of your drugs is to crush up your extra pills, then mix them with -- and this is what they say -- kitty litter or coffee grounds. Now, we need to do all we can to keep these dangerous drugs out of the hands of teens, but I’m just not sure, especially if someone doesn't have a cat, that kitty litter is a realistic solution. And not everyone these days makes their own coffee. So we're dealing here with a very serious problem and all we're hearing about is kitty litter and coffee grounds, and that is why we passed this bill.
One option parents have is to dispose of leftover drugs at a National Take-Back Day. Over three million pounds of prescription medications have been removed from circulation through seven National Take-Back Days that have been held since 2010. I participated in one of those days in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, last fall. While these events have been incredibly successful, one-day events held a few times each year do not fully address the problem of how we're going to dispose of our drugs safely.
For instance, let's say you heard about a Take-Back Day right after you had your dental surgery. Great, you can bring over those pills and safely dispose of them but then you remember your kid has a soccer tournament and you can't make it that day to dispose of the drugs. Looks like those pills are going to stay sitting right where they are in the medicine cabinet, and I doubt many people have the time right then and there to call and ask when the next Take-Back Day might be and put it on their calendar in a red pen.
We have to be realistic. These Take-Back Days are great and in my district under the leadership of the Sheriff we have permanent facilities in places where they can be brought permanently, the drugs, in the libraries and places like that. So we really have gone the extra step. But the reason our law enforcement is such a big fan of this law, they know that we could take so many more drugs in if, for instance, long-term care facilities were able to simply bring the drugs to one location each and every day. If, for instance, and some of the -- some of our drugstores have been open to this, some of the national chains would be willing to take these back and they bring them somewhere. To do that they need certain legal protections, they need protections about how they transport them. That is why we have been awaiting these rules.
Given the Food and Drug Administration's recent approval of some very powerful drugs, I think it is even more important that we make sure when these drugs are out there they be able to be disposed of. Offering more ways for people to dispose of their unneeded prescription drugs is also a component of stopping the recent rise we've seen in heroin. That might seem counterintuitive. You would say, why would that help with heroin? That is not a prescription drug. How could that reduce the amount of heroin out there when we know we've seen huge increases in the amount of heroin?
We have seen it in our city. The heroin epidemic in Minnesota and all across the country is deadly. In the first half of 2013, 91 people died of opiate-related overdoses in the Twin Cities in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties, compared to 129 for all of 2012, just to give you a sense, six months compared to a year. Hospital emergency department visits for heroin nearly tripled from 2004 to 2011. In a 7,000 person community of St. Francis, Minnesota, three young people died of opiate overdoses since May. Another three young people have been hospitalized for heroin overdoses. One was only 15 years old.
Experts blame this rise in heroin use to, first of all, some coming, pure heroin coming from Mexico. But secondly, an increased use of prescription drugs -- like OxyContin and Vicodin. That's because as many as four out of five heroin drug users got their start by using prescription drugs. I think people think of heroin like from the 1970's and people shooting up. It is not like that anymore. They can take it by pills; they can take it by different ways. What happens is when they start with these prescription drugs and they have access to them, they get hooked. They get addicted. Then when they can't get the prescription drugs, which does happen, then they turn to heroin. And heroin right now is much easier to obtain. So the answer here, because those drugs are similar in how they make them feel, the answer is to stop them from getting addicted in the first place.
I think oftentimes when people see a drug in medicine cabinet or know it’s okay to take one of these types of drugs, OxyContin, other things for pain; they don't intend to get addicted. I had a roundtable at Hazelden, one of nation's premier treatment centers. A lot of times people that end up dying from a heroin overdose might be casual heroin users, not doing it every single day. That is because it was a replacement for the prescription drugs they started getting addicted to when they got them out of a medicine cabinet or maybe they were prescribed them. We know this isn't going to fix everything, but certainly making it easier and empowering people to dispose of these drugs will, number one, clearly cut down on the use of these prescription drugs, and then we believe lead to less heroin use in the long term.
Americans all across the country in cities, suburbs and small towns need options to get rid of leftover pills before they fuel addictions and claim the lives of their loved ones. The Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act provides these options, but we can't take these crucial steps in the fight against drug abuse until the D.E.A. issues its Final Rule.
After four years, Madam President, it is time to make these rules official. Four years that families in long-term facilities have lost out on safe and easy options to get rid of unused prescription drugs. Four years that those plastic amber bottles piled up in medicine cabinets across America. Four years that dangerous pills have been left vulnerable to misuse, potentially falling into the hands of our loved ones fighting addiction or criminals or being accidentally consumed by an innocent child. We need the final rules. We must get them done right. But with so much at stake, we must get them done now.
Thank you, Madam President. I yield the floor.