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DIGGING DEEPER: DEA cancels ‘Take Back’ Drugs campaign

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TUCSON (KVOA) - For the first time in a decade, the Drug Enforcement Administration will not be holding their "Take Back" Drugs campaign.

That's when the public disposes unused or expired prescriptions and takes them to locations designated by the DEA . With prescription overdoses at a high level, it is a campaign that many say is needed now more than ever.

Due to COVID-19, the DEA decided not to have their yearly event. However, because of the virus, DEA officials said it is more important than ever to get rid of any unused or expired medications.

Kevin Black is a special agent with DEA. He's assigned to the Tactical Diversion squad for DEA.

"Since people are now stuck at home more often, I think the potential for abuse is much more during COVID(-19)," Black said.

He said the drugs in your medicine cabinet could end up in the wrong hands, meaning someone could steal them and sell then on the street.

He also said some people you'd never expect will actually sell their prescription drugs.

"They discovered they can make thousands of dollars off of their prescription," Black said.

However, that's breaking the law. Black said those people are considered "drug dealers."

In the last nine years nationwide, DEA has collected 11,000,000 pounds of pills. In Arizona, nearly 200,000.

After the drugs are collected, DEA burns them in an incinerator.

"If you can do your part in taking these drugs to a dropbox location, then I think you are doing your part," he said. "I think it's really going to help in the opioid problem we're having in this country."

Don Redd is all too familiar with prescription drugs and the dangers of becoming addicted.

"I didn't wake up wanting to be an addict. It happened," Redd said. "I am one of the lucky few who has gotten well."

At 36, Redd had open heart surgery and was given prescription opioids for the pain. He became addicted.

"It took my life, who I was," he said. "It almost took my family."

He credits his family and support from the rehab center who all gave him hope.

Redd also believes in DEA's mission of taking back drugs.

"I'm always impressed that the drug enforcement administration does this twice a year, it's critical," he said.

Critical because of the current opioid crisis.

" I know we're stuck talking about the coronavirus pandemic and we should, however, this opioid epidemic has now been lost for decades," he said. "We're still doing nothing or very little about it."

Redd is now a recovery coach who gives his patients hope.

"You still can move forward; you can take back your life," he said.

So while DEA won't be holding their event, the Pima County Sheriff's Department will be.

Red Ribbon Week is coming up. It's a drug, alcohol, violence prevention, awareness campaign.

It began in 1985 as a tribute to DEA agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena. He was kidnapped and tortured by the same drug dealers he was investigating.

This is also when parents are reminded to talk to their children about the dangers of drug abuse.

Some Walgreen's and CVS pharmacies also collect prescription drugs, check first before taking your expired or unused medications.

For more information about PCSD's event, click here.

Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

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