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August 06, 2021

Excess opioids invite abuse. Beginning next year, the VA will take them off your hands

Credit: Herald-Mail Media, Tamela Baker

WASHINGTON — Beginning Jan. 1, Veterans Affairs medical centers will be required to provide locations for disposing of controlled substances medications.

The requirement was originally intended for VA patients as part of the sweeping Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020, which became law on Jan. 5. 

But last week, President Joe Biden signed into law an amendment that will allow anyone to dispose of unused opioids at the VA sites.

The bill, called the DUMP Opioids Act, “is another step in how we can get unused opioids out of people’s cabinet in their bathroom and get them disposed of safely,” said U.S. Rep. David Trone, D-6th, who co-sponsored the House version of the bill with U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa. The Senate version, sponsored by Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., eventually passed both houses and landed on the president’s desk.

And while it’s just one piece in the battle against opioid addiction, Trone emphasized the bipartisan effort.

“That’s why President Biden invited us to the White House,” he told Herald-Mail Media on Wednesday. “We got to go to the Oval Office and spent over 30 minutes talking about addiction and mental health and a number of other topics … That bipartisan piece really resonated with the president.

While the disposal sites will be required at VA medical centers, Trone said he wasn’t sure yet whether out-patient clinics, such as the one in Hagerstown, will be included. 

“That’ll still be decided by the VA,” he said, “Hopefully it will be included; that’s certainly our request. It goes into effect Jan. 1, 2022, so they’ve got the fall, here, to decide where they’re going to set up to take the unused prescription medicines back.

Building bipartisan relationships “is the key” to tackling legislation in an often divided Congress.

“That’s the key, is building those relationships with Republicans,” he said. 

This bill, however, is just a small part in combating addiction.

“It’s such a huge problem,” Trone said, noting a record 93,000 Americans died last year as a result of overdoses. “And that’s a record we did not want to set.” 

Trone is co-chairman of the bipartisan Mental Health and Addiction Task Force in Congress, which has more than 140 members.

“We’re going to be coming forth with many, many, many more bills … on education; on how we stop the drugs coming across the boarder; on medically assisted treatment,” he said.

Trone said Biden was in “total agreement” with legislative efforts to tackle addiction, but that the president’s current focus is COVID-19 and the economy. After that, Trone said, the president told him he would turn his focus to addiction, the opioid crisis and the mental-health crisis.

But the task force is already working on a “big mental-health bill,” Trone said. It’s already 130 pages and has support in both parties and in both houses of Congress, he said.

“It works on education, it works on prevention, it works on treatment, it works on the criminal justice piece of it,” Trone said. “And we’ve really got to work hard on mental health because it’s so connected to addiction.

“That’s the issue — they’re connected hand-in-hand.”