More than 140 pounds of expired, unused or unwanted prescription drugs were returned to the Highland Police Station on Sept. 26 as part of The National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.
The National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day aims to provide a safe, convenient, and responsible means of disposing of prescription drugs, while also educating the general public about the potential for abuse of medications.
“The purpose of the proactive program is to collect unwanted or expired prescription medications to prevent them from being used illegally,” Highland police officer Heather Kunz said.
“We have taken several reports in the past of people stealing medications, most frequently controlled substances such as pain killers, anti-depressants, anti-anx iety, from unsecured locations in residences, vehicles and purses. These prescriptions are frequently abused or sold.”
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The Highland Police Department teamed up with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to give the public its third opportunity in 1 1/2 years to prevent pill abuse and theft by ridding their homes of potentially dangerous expired, unused, and unwanted prescription drugs.
Abuse a growing problem
According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 6.5 million Americans abused controlled prescription drugs. That same study showed that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet.
The initiative addresses a vital public safety and public health issue. Medicines that languish in home cabinets are highly susceptible to diversion, misuse, and abuse.
“Rates of prescription drug abuse in the U.S. are alarmingly high, as are the number of accidental poisonings and overdoses due to these drugs,” Kunz said.
“Studies show that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet.”
In addition, residents are advised that their usual methods for disposing of unused medicines — flushing them down the toilet or throwing them in the trash — both pose potential safety and health hazards.
Every year, nearly 15,000 people across the country die from overdoses of prescription painkillers.
The number of emergency department visits due to misuse or abuse of prescription drugs has risen 98.4 percent since 2004.
Among 12- and 13-year-olds who abuse drugs, prescription drugs are the most commonly abused. About three in five teens say prescription pain relievers are easy to get from parents medicine cabinet.
Over 50 percent of prescription drug abusers got them from family or friends.
Death toll continues to rise
Last year, there were 56 prescription overdose deaths in Madison County, more than double the 22 deaths from 2013.
Madison County has had 19 prescription overdose deaths this year, Madison Coroner Stephen Nonn said.
“Never in my entire career have I witnessed such a devastating result in drug overdose deaths as we have experienced these past seven years, starting in 2009,” said Nonn, who has been in law enforcement for a total of 41 years, 26 years with the Madison County Sheriff’s Office and now 15 years as coroner.
The number of prescription drug overdoses and heroin deaths has Rick Cox, an addiction counselor with Bridgeway Behavioral Health in St. Charles, Mo., concerned. He said any prescription drug taken off the streets is a step in the right direction.
“I have been in recovery for the past 31 years, said Cox, who recently worked as a security guard at the recent Highland Speedway Jam, was a heavy drug user prior to that.
He remembers taking prescription drugs by the handful for a number of years before he stopped.
“A lot of times I didn’t know what in the hell I was taking,” he said. “It was like here you go. Take a handful. Everything would be fine. At least, I thought I was.”
Police will take unwanted prescriptions anytime
Secured medication collection bins can be found in the lobbies of the police departments in Alton, Bethalto, Collinsville, Edwardsville, Highland, Roxana and Troy, in addition to the Madison County Sheriff’s Office.
The public can dispose of prescription medications every day of the year in these bins.
Among the medications which can be deposited at the bins are antibiotics, hormones, blood pressure regulators, painkillers, steroids, any over-the-counter medications, anti-depressants, sedatives, cough syrups and other controlled substances.
Medications which should not be disposed of at the bins include sharps/needles, mercury thermometers, IV solutions, hearing aids, oxygen tanks, X-rays or other household waste items.