HOULTON, Maine — Although National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is still four days away, the Houlton Police Department already has collected close to 10 boxes of unwanted and unused prescription drugs that are ready for disposal.
And the department, which allows people to dispose of unwanted medications at the police station year-round, expects to receive a significant amount of drugs during the four-hour event on Saturday.
The federal Drug Enforcement Administration is spearheading National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, which takes place 10 a.m. to 2 p.m Saturday, Oct. 29, at 166 collection sites across Maine. Anyone with unused or unwanted prescription medications can bring them in their original, labeled containers to one of the collection sites for disposal.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, drug take-back day addresses a vital public safety and public health issue. More than seven million Americans currently abuse prescription drugs and approximately, 2,500 teens use prescription drugs each day to get high for the first time, according to the Partnership for a Drug Free America. Studies show that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including the home medicine cabinet.
The DEA, along with state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the United States, conducted National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days in Sept. 2010 and this past April. Nearly, 4,000 state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the nation participated in the events, collecting more than 309 tons of pills.
Michael W. Wardrop, the DEA’s resident agent in charge in Maine, said from his Portland office Monday afternoon that the number of drugs collected across the state has increased each time a take-back day has been held.
“In Sept. 2010, we had 96 law enforcement agencies across the state staffing 131 collection sites,” he said. “We collected 7,820 pounds of pills. Nationally, per capita, Maine was number one in terms of the amount of drugs collected.”
In April, 130 agencies at 156 collection sites secured 11,920 pounds of medications, making Maine again number one per capita in terms of drugs collected.
“Right now, we have 144 participating law enforcement agencies and 166 collection sites set up statewide,” said Waldrop. “There are only three law enforcement agencies in the state that are not participating, and that is because they have a sheriff’s office in their town who is participating. That means we have 100 percent coverage across the state.”
Maine Drug Enforcement Agency Division Commander Darrell Crandall will be helping with collection efforts in Aroostook County this Saturday. Crandall is also a lieutenant with the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department. He said the Sheriff’s Department will have three collection sites across The County, at Katahdin Valley Health Center in Island Falls, the Eagle Lake Health Center, and Horizons Health Center in Mars Hill. He said the MDEA will be assisting to help collect medications dropped off at other collection sites across The County and the state.
Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety, said Monday afternoon that the take-back day is a vital tool in the state’s arsenal as officials strive to eliminate drug abuse.
“Since we’ve had so much success with our past drives, if the number of medications we collect are down this Saturday, it is because of our previous success,” he said. “Mainers really responded to the previous two events. It is another opportunity for Mainers to get it out of their homes, which is important, because we have had a number of drug related burglaries. Getting them out of homes keeps the public safe and it keeps these medications from being flushed into the water supply or into the landfill.”
Flushing medications down the toilet or throwing them in the trash creates a potential safety and health hazard to the environment and wildlife.
Wardrop pointed out that there are a lot of older citizens in Maine, and a number of long-term health care facilities. He said that many such facilities do not have a means to dispose of their medications without these collection days. There are approximately 830 such facilities statewide, according to Wardrop, and 63 took part in the last take-back day in April. That resulted in the collection of 750 pounds of medications.
“Much of those were medications in blister packs of about 50 pills,” he said. “And the majority of those packs were completely full, which means taxpayer waste surrounding the medications that were financed by MaineCare or other such programs.”
A number of health care facilities are participating in Saturday’s event.
Houlton Police Chief Butch Asselin said his department allows anyone to bring their unused or unwanted prescriptions to the station year-round.
“We’ve had this open-door policy of allowing people to bring in medications since I’ve been here, but it has really ramped up in the past year or so as the information has gotten out there,” said the chief.
The department also created a policy a few weeks ago following a home burglary committed while the family was away at a funeral. Four people went to the home and stole several items, including prescription drugs, during the service when they knew the house would be empty.
“In lieu of that, we have advertised that we will go to the home of someone who has recently died and pick those drugs up and bring them here to the department,” said Asselin. “It protects the family, it keeps them off the street, and it keeps them out of the environment.”
To find a collection site near you, visit justice.gov/dea and click on the icon at the top of the Web page that states “Got drugs? Turn in your unused or expired medication for safe disposal Saturday.”