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Mainers expected to turn in tons of unused drugs at 150 sites

Kate Collins | BDN
Kate Collins | BDN
Chief Troy Morton of the Penobscot County Sheriff's Department discards unused prescription medications as part of the National Take-Back Day on Saturday, April 30, 2011, at Bangor's Cascade Park. Coordinated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the program offers the opportunity to safely disgard of unused or unwanted prescription drugs, which will then be incinerated. Due to the convenient location, Morton received a steady flow of drop-offs throughout the morning. "It's like a McDonald's drive-through," Morton said, "you can just pull in and out."
By Meg Haskell, BDN Staff

Law enforcement agencies staffed more than 150 drug take-back sites around the state on Saturday, collecting tons — literally — of unwanted prescription and over-the-counter medications. The four-hour event marked National Take-Back Day, an effort coordinated by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and aimed at encouraging Americans to dispose of unused medications safely.

More than 130 local, county and state agencies participated in the statewide event. At the Airport Mall in Bangor, people brought in everything from vitamins to the powerfully addictive painkiller OxyContin, according to Officer Jason McAmbley of the Bangor Police Department.

“The goal is to get them off the street, out of the landfills and out of the water supply,” McAmbley said, eyeing a rapidly filling carton of pills, capsules and tablets that had been dumped out of their individual containers.

“A lot of people come in because their spouse has died and they don’t know what to do with the medications,” he said.

As he spoke, a middle-aged woman walked across the parking lot carrying a large brown prescription bottle brimming with a jumble of different-colored capsules. She unscrewed the childproof cap and poured the contents onto the growing heap in the carton, handing the empty container to McAmbley after peeling off the label.

“I didn’t want to take them after I got them,” the woman said.  “My doctor doesn’t know.” She declined to be identified.

A little later, a car pulled up and Belina Young of Charleston got out, carrying a bag with pill bottles in it.

“We have a new baby boy and he’s just started walking. We didn’t want him to get into our old drugs,” she said.

Drugs collected at take-back sites in northern Maine were delivered Saturday afternoon to the Brewer Public Safety building, where federal agents waited with a rental truck to drive them to a special hazardous waste incinerator in Massachusetts.

According to U.S. DEA agent Michael Wardrop, who is based in Portland, Maine topped the nation last September in the per capita amount of unused drugs turned in on National Take-Back Day, with nearly 4 tons of medicines turned in to law enforcement officials. Wardrop said it would be several days before there is an accurate report on the quantity of drugs turned in on Saturday. But he said the drugs collected here this year would surely be more than last year, since this year nursing homes and other residential care facilities are participating. Wardrop had set a goal this year of topping 10,000 pounds.

Wardrop said an estimated 40 percent of all prescribed medications are wasted each year. And the problem is not new. Wardrop said he was holding in his hand a glass prescription bottle dated 1958 that had been brought on Saturday to a take-back site in the Portland area.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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