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October 25, 2019

DEA will accept unwanted vaping devices as mysterious lung illness cases surge

Daily Briefing

    The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has announced that, for the first time, it will accept unwanted electronic vaping devices and cartridges at collection sites across the United States during its National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, as the number of cases of a vaping-related illness and deaths continue to increase, NPR's "Shots" reports.

    Background: As cases of a vaping-linked illness surpass 1,500, CDC says it is unsure of cause

    CDC data updated Thursday shows the number of reported cases of a lung illness officials believe is linked to e-cigarette use and vaping, dubbed EVALI, reached 1,604 as of Oct. 22, with 34 confirmed deaths. Cases of the illness have been reported in 49 states, Washington, D.C., and one U.S. territory, with deaths confirmed in 24 states. Alaska is the only state with no reported cases of the illness.

    Based on CDC data released last week on 1,358 patients with known demographic information, the agency estimated that about 80% of patients in the reported cases are younger than 35, 21% are 18 to 20 years old, and 15% are younger than 18. About 70% of patients are male.

    Anne Schuchat—CDC's principal deputy director, who is overseeing the agency's investigation into the matter—earlier this month said the number of reported cases is rising at a "brisk" pace and that cases typically involve "really serious injuries." She said, "[W]e don't know how well people will recover from them, whether lung damage may be permanent."

    Doctors report that patients' recoveries have varied, with some patients appearing to make full recoveries and others continuing to have trouble breathing. CDC earlier this month reported that some patients have relapsed and had to be hospitalized a second time, with readmissions occurring from as few as five days to as many as 55 days after initial discharge.

    CDC said it is unclear why those patients relapsed. However, Schuchat said it is possible that the lung illness made the patients more susceptible to other conditions. In addition, she said steroids used to treat the lung illness could "set [patients] up for increased infection risk."

    CDC also said officials still do not know what is causing the illness and associated lung injuries. The agency noted that a majority of patients with the illness have reported using products containing the compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the high-inducing chemical found in marijuana. However, CDC noted that 10% of cases involve patients who reported using only nicotine vaping products.

    Schuchat has said the illness might have more than one cause, and the cause could vary throughout the United States. "The phenomenon we're seeing is going to have an explanation but it may not be tomorrow," Schutchat said earlier this month, adding, "It may take a few months to really understand the portion of illness that's due to some risky practice in the preparation of these materials or other causes."

    CDC recommends that people abstain from products that use THC. The agency previously had recommended that people abstain from all e-cigarette and vaping products, but CDC narrowed its recommendation earlier this month.

    DEA will collect vaping devices, cartridges on National Prescription Drug Tack Back Day

    As the number of vaping-related illnesses and deaths continues to grow, DEA has announced that it will accept unwanted vaping devices and cartridges during the agency's National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, which is scheduled to take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at collection sites across the United States.

    DEA first launched the event in 2010 in an effort to prevent prescription drug misuse and theft, "Shots" reports. The event allows individuals to anonymously drop off expired, unused, and unwanted prescription drugs at collection sites throughout the country, and DEA this year also will accept electronic vaping devices and cartridges without lithium ion batteries. DEA recommended that, if individuals cannot remove the batteries from the devices, they contact "large electronic chain stores" or hazardous materials management facilities to see if those facilities will accept the devices, "Shots" reports.

    Agency officials in a release said, "In an effort to support a healthy lifestyle and energetic population, especially amongst America's youth, DEA is committed to doing all it can to help safely dispose of vaping devices and substances" (Treisman, "Shots," NPR, 10/25; Gumbrecht, CNN, 10/24; Mishra/Sibi Joseph, Reuters, 10/24).

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