Prescription drug abuse is rampant throughout the United States, and now the Justice Department is ramping up efforts to collect unused, controlled prescription medicine. New regulations were issued today by the Obama administration that designate drug manufacturers, medical clinics, pharmacies and hospitals as ‘authorized collectors’ of unused and controlled drugs.

In 2011, around 41,000 people died from drug overdose. More than half the deaths were tied to prescription drugs. Out of that number, 17,000 involved opioid medications such as Vicodin and Oxycontin.

The new program was announced by Attorney General Eric Holder. “Every day, this crisis touches – and devastates – the lives of Americans from every state, in every region, and from every background and walk of life,” Holder said. “Through new DEA regulations, patients will be allowed to more easily join the fight against prescription drug abuse by dropping off their leftover medications at pharmacies, hospitals, clinics, and other ‘authorized collectors.’”

Opioid painkillers are seen as a gateway drug to heroin. It is more of a forced gateway. The restrictions placed on opioid prescription have pushed addicts to a cheaper and more dangerous high, heroin.

The abuse of painkillers is especially prevalent among teens. Around 40% of those that abuse the medication do so via their parents’ medicine cabinet. Adults are likely to keep unused prescription meds. The new program is seeking to remove those medications from households.

“We know that if we remove unused painkillers from the home, we can prevent misuse and dependence from ever taking hold,” said Michael Botticelli, acting Director of National Drug Control Policy.

With the new regulations taking effect within 30 days, it is the latest attempt by the federal government to get a grip on prescription drug abuse. Hydrocodone, known under the brand name Vicodin, was recently reclassified as a Schedule II drug. This prevents people from obtaining extended refills without seeing a doctor to monitor them.

The reclassification also stiffens legal penalties for anyone caught selling the drug or possessing them without a valid prescription.

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