BANGOR, Maine — Maine ranked first in the nation for the amount of drugs collected per capita in the last four National Prescription Drug Take-Backs, and with pills pouring in at 167 different drop-off spots on Saturday, the state may reign supreme yet again.
The fifth national take-back, sponsored by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, involved nearly every law enforcement agency in the state, said Michael Wardrop, the DEA’s resident agent in charge in Maine.
“We did a preemptive strike with state employees today,” the drug agent said on Friday of the 80 pounds of old pills collected at Department of Health and Human Services facilities in Bangor and Portland.
Wardrop, who earlier this year worried about whether the DEA would continue to fund the prescription drug take-backs, has been working with the Maine Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force, created by Gov. Paul LePage and Attorney General William Schneider, to come up with a plan to get around high disposal costs.
The collected pills and other drugs are considered hazardous waste and therefore are burned by the federal government after the collection.
The Maine Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force members are working the members of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to review state regulations now in place, Wardrop said.
The goal is to get the discarded drugs classified as residential household solid waste.
“Based on that definition, it will allow us to have a sustainable program in Maine,” Wardrop said. “Law enforcement will be able to dispose of those materials” at a reasonable cost in a Maine facility.
“It’s a huge advancement,” the drug agent said. “Without that partnership and working to find that solution, the disposal costs for all that material as hazardous waste, including sending it out of state, would cost $4 or $5 a pound.”
That would be an unreasonable cost for any local department to bear, Wardrop said.
Mainers dropped off 10 tons of unwanted or expired drugs in April, with about 276 tons collected across the nation, and last October Maine residents disposed of another 7 tons.
Those drugs are not being “diverted onto the street” Wardrop said. “They’re not in the hands of toddlers and they’re not going into our water stream” when people flush them down the toilet.
The medicine cabinets of family and friends is often where people, who later become drug addicts, say they get their first taste of diverted prescription drugs, and it is well known that Mainers like painkillers such as oxycodone and OxyContin, Wardrop has said.
Getting the unused drugs out of the house is one way to prevent people from stealing and misusing them, he said.
In addition to the bi-annual prescription drug take-backs, “60 different law enforcement agencies have disposal boxes where you can drop off medicines 24/7,” Wardrop said.
Bangor, Brewer, Orono, Veazie and the Penobscot County Jail got MedReturn boxes in July 2011 to collect the unwanted or unused drugs thanks to funds provided by Bangor Health and Community Services and Sebasticook Valley Healthy Communities.
Holden, which has participated in every take-back, doesn’t have a dropbox but still accepts the drugs year-round from residents, Holden police Sgt. Gene Fizell said on Saturday.
The drugs are locked up until a take-back is held and then are added to the pile, he said. About half way through Saturday’s collection, the sergeant said he already had a good-size parcel.
“I’ve probably collected around 25 pounds,” he said. “I separated the pills from the bottles so that’s straight meds.”
There was a steady flow of residents dropping off unused or unwanted medication, some that were nearly a quarter-century old.
“We had some from 1988,” Fizell said. “They were tucked in the back of a closet. People are very pleased to have someplace to bring them.”