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Drug addiction hurts everyone, including children, veterans and the ederly. Prescription drug abuse or misuse can lead to human suffering, illness, and even death. It is time we act collectively to curb the opioid epidemic — Montana cannot afford to wait. That is why I brought Montanans together this year in the legislature to establish a designated annual Montana Drug Take Back Day.

Saturday, Oct. 26 is Montana Drug Take Back Day, part of National Substance Abuse Prevention Month. This is a day for our communities to support safe, convenient, and responsible ways to dispose of unused or expired prescription drugs — although this is one focused day, unused prescription medications can be safely disposed of all year. When expired or unused prescription medications are not disposed of properly, they become a public safety issue that can result in illness and even death. They may even harm the environment if improperly disposed of, especially if they enter our water supplies.

It is past time we develop policies and sufficient services to stop these tragedies, and as Montana Attorney General, I plan to do just that. I have worked my entire career as a nurse, prosecutor, and legislator to protect our children and our communities from opioids and drug addiction. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, between 60 and 92% of patients nationwide don’t finish their painkillers. Fewer than 10% dispose of them safely and 60% keep partially completed opioid prescriptions for later use. Adding extra risk, more than 80% don’t store their narcotic painkillers in a locked cabinet. According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 70 percent of prescription substance abusers obtained the drugs they most recently misused from a friend or family member.

In Montana, prescription drug abuse is on the rise, especially by youth. According to the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services, the rate of prescription drug overdose deaths has doubled since 2000, with more than 700 deaths from prescription opioid overdose. In addition, in 2015, over 15% of high schoolers and more than 5% of seventh and eighth graders in Montana reported having taken a prescription medication without a prescription.

Opioid use is the primary driver of drug overdose deaths in Montana. The problem does not stop with misuse of prescription drugs. The link between prescription narcotic painkiller abuse and subsequent heroin abuse continues to grow.

One of the best ways to address opioid misuse is through providing avenues for the convenient, safe, and proper disposal of unused medications. Dropboxes for disposal are available at pharmacies, hospitals, and clinics with on-site pharmacies to collect and dispose of prescription drugs. Removing leftover and expired medications from homes and responsibly disposing of them makes communities and families safer. It also keeps our environment healthier. Proper disposal is important for public health, community safety, and to save lives that may be lost from drug misuse.

Contact your local law enforcement to find a location near you. Together we can work to stop the opioid epidemic harming our citizens.

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Rep. Kimberly Dudik, D-Missoula, is a former nurse and prosecutor. She is running for Montana attorney general. 

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