Drug take back program held at 16 locations
Sixteen Lehigh County collection points gave valley citizens an opportunity to get rid of old, unused and outdated prescription drugs in a safe manner under the auspices of county law enforcement and health department officials.
The event was held 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 29 to allow residents to safely dispose of pills, liquids and pet medications without discarding them into trash or sewer outlets, and ultimately, the environment.
Police officers, and in some locations, health department staffers, accepted the medications with no questions asked, and bundled them securely for later pickup by federal Drug Enforcement Agency representatives for safekeeping until they can be transported to a licensed destruction facility.
This is the fifth program event in Lehigh County. As has been the case in the last four collections, drug drop-off was anonymous and no questions were asked of individuals disposing of medications.
The event was coordinated by the Lehigh County District Attorney's Office, area police departments, the Allentown Health Bureau, Pennsylvania State Police and the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration.
The amount of unwanted and expired drugs collected during the past Take Back Day events has been staggering.
During the last four collection events in 2010, 2011 and spring 2012, a total of 2,274 pounds of drugs – or more than one ton of medications – were collected in Lehigh County alone.
At the last event on April 28, 2012, a record-breaking 552,161 pounds, or 276 tons, of medications were collected across the nation. In the United States and U.S. territories, the last four collections have resulted in 1.5 million pounds of drugs being removed from circulation.
"Members of the public have expressed their gratitude to police for hosting the collections because they want to make sure the drugs don't get into the hands of children who want to experiment with them or end up in landfills or in the area's water supply," Lehigh County District Attorney James B. Martin said.
"The Allentown Health Bureau is excited to partner again in this effort, and we have taken public information efforts to help everyone void medication errors and accidental and intentional drug overdose by cleaning out their medicine cabinets and drawers for the Sept. 29 event," Vicky Kistler, director of the Allentown Health Bureau said.
DEA personnel take the drugs to an incinerator where they are burned. Many people don't know that most of the commonly abused drugs by teenagers are prescription drugs, Martin said. They are usually in the family's bathroom medicine cabinets, where they are forgotten. Because they are not being used by the people for whom they were prescribed, no one checks to see if one pill or 10 pills are missing, Martin said.
He noted studies have shown one in 10 teenagers has used Vicodin for nonmedical purposes. Other drugs misused and abused are Percocet, Oxycontin and codeine cough syrup, stimulants like Adderall, Ritalin and Dexedrine, sedatives and tranquilizers like Valium, Xanax and Ambien.
"It's important that parents who once child-proofed their house now teen-proof them by locking medicine cabinets and disposing of unwanted drugs," Martin said. "Many users of street drugs, such as heroin, start with prescription drug abuse."
He said many teens believe because a doctor prescribed medications or they are available in their local drug store they are not dangerous. Accidental overdoses also occur when medications are taken by small children or others who mistook them for other medications.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention released a morbidity and mortality report showing an increasing number of fatalities caused by the non-medical use of prescription medications.
Overdose deaths have escalated in the last decade, often because of abuse and misuse of prescription painkillers.
Overdoses from pain-killers lead to more than 15,000 deaths each year. Misuse and abuse of these drugs and other medications accumulated in people's homes have caused an increase in hospital emergency room visits and treatment admissions for teens and adults.
Some of these people have become addicted to drugs that are legal and not dangerous if used properly.
"People sometimes ask why they can't give their unwanted medications to other people who can't afford them. I want to stress that it is illegal under the Controlled Substances Act to give medications to someone else," Martin said.
Prescription medications are given to patients by the doctors who know them, their symptoms and their medical history. The doctors know about previous side effects that a patient has had and about any complaints associated with past medication use.
"The lay person who gives their medications to someone else might be well intentioned but can cause serious harm or death to someone else," Martin said.
The diversion of prescription medications also contributes to crime in the same way that street drugs do. Illegal activities related to prescription drug diversion include forgery of prescriptions, pharmacy robberies and burglaries of businesses where controlled substance prescription drugs are kept.