Four tons? I thought it was a misprint. Nearly 4 tons, that’s 7,820 pounds of unused, unwanted and outdated prescription pills that Maine residents dropped off in bins in parking lots throughout the state last week.
Can you even begin to visualize how many pills that involves?
If last week’s National Take-Back Day didn’t convince officials of the desperate need people have to rid themselves of prescription drug medication, then surely nothing will.
As a state we really outdid New Hampshire, where authorities collected only 2,479 pounds, and Vermont, where 1,127 pounds of pills were deposited.
Connecticut collected 5,050 pounds and Rhode Island only 784 pounds. The only state in New England to dispose of more pills last Saturday than Maine was Massachusetts. There they collected 8,550 pounds, a measly 730 pounds more than Maine.
Maine’s population is 1.3 million and Massachusetts’ is 6.5 million.
In Virginia officials collected 5,000 pounds, and 4,000 pounds in Minnesota.
We clearly had a whole lot of extra medication hanging around in our medicine cabinets.
Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, U.S Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, announced just four days after National Take-Back Day that their legislation to allow the safe disposal of medications had passed Congress and was on its way to the president to be signed into law.
The Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act will allow states and private agencies to institute responsible drug take-back programs. Federal law now prohibits such programs.
For a brief time the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency was administering a mail-back program, providing residents free, pre-addressed envelopes to mail their unwanted prescription medication to the MDEA office.
Funding dried up, however, and the program was phased out.
Maine is one of 17 states where deaths by drug overdose outnumber deaths by motor vehicle accidents.
Prescription drug abuse is the fastest-growing drug problem in the country.
Around the country surveys show that three out of five teenagers say it is easy to steal prescription medications from their parents.
Between 1998 and 2008, hospital admissions due to prescription drug abuse rose 400 percent.
Given that in one day in Maine we collected 4 tons of excess prescription medication, those statistics are certainly easy to believe.
Maybe Congress has finally figured out the extent of the problem.
People, even in the most rural parts of our state, are scared their homes may be invaded by drug seekers.
Home invasions were almost nonexistent just 10 years ago. Today they are not uncommon.
People are warned not to flush extra medications down the toilet, for they contaminate the groundwater.
They are told not to throw them out because they end up in landfills and eventually leach into the soil.
They are not allowed to take them to their local police department, and the local pharmacy won’t take them either.
Until now, neither the state nor the federal government has provided a safe solution to the problem.
Passage of the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act is a good first step, but there is no money attached.
The preferred method of disposing of prescription medication is through incineration.
If local governments are going to be responsible for collecting unused medication, then local governments most likely will be responsible for their storage and their incineration costs.
Most police departments have secure evidence rooms where the drugs could be stored.
There are ways to offset incineration fees.
Drug forfeiture money could be used to offset the costs to communities.
In one Texas community the police department built its own incinerator to dispose of the drugs, and in yet another, a local pet crematorium provides the service free of charge.
Four tons of pills in Maine in one day.
Houston, I think we have a problem.
E-mail Renee at firstname.lastname@example.org and listen to her and co-host Dan Frazell from 7 to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday on the radio at 103.1 The Pulse.