This Saturday, April 26, is National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, an effort led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to collect and safely dispose of unwanted, expired, and unused medications.
Tomorrow marks the eighth time in three years the U.S. DEA has organized the event, designed largely to rid Americans’ medicine chests of powerful narcotics ripe for misuse.
Maine is a top participant, ranking first in the nation for the volume of medications collected per capita, according to Roy McKinney, director of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. During the last take-back day in September 2013, the state collected 22,260 pounds of prescription drugs — that’s about 11 tons. Since the initiative launched, 106,620 pounds of drugs have been returned in Maine, or roughly 53 tons, McKinney said.
The U.S. DEA, partnering with state and local law enforcement, hopes to reduce caches of prescription pills to limit the potential for abuse, overdose, and death among those who take medications intended for others to get high.
Drug overdoses killed 163 Maine people in 2012, according to the state medical examiner’s office. Since 2009, the majority of drug seizures in Maine have involved pharmaceutical narcotics, a Maine Office of Substance Abuse report states.
“In this state and in this country we have an epidemic of prescription drug misuse,” McKinney said.
Research shows young people often first gain access to powerful narcotics, such as OxyContin and oxycodone, through the medicine cabinets of family and friends, he said.
“Removing those when they’re no longer needed as a medication and properly disposing of them shuts down one avenue of availability for misuse,” he said.
The initiative also aims to rid homes of drugs that children could accidentally ingest and to prevent homeowners from flushing medications down the toilet or tossing them in the trash, potentially contaminating the environment and drinking water.
Take-Back Day surveys from previous years showed environmental concerns prompted many Mainers to participate, likely explaining today’s high participation rate, McKinney said.
Law enforcement no longer inventories the drugs returned, he said. But during the initiative’s previous iteration as a mail-back program, about 20 percent of the drugs returned were powerful narcotics, he said.
Consumers can drop off any type of prescription drug, as well as over-the-counter medications. The drugs will be incinerated.
The service is free and police won’t ask questions, McKinney said.
“There’s no querying of where did you get these drugs from,” he said.
He’s heard personal stories from Mainers who avoid telling others that they’re taking painkillers, for fear of being targeted by criminals, McKinney said.
“That’s a sad comment that there’s that level of concern, and rightfully so,” he said.
About 160 collection points across Maine, including many police and sheriff’s offices, will accept prescription medications tomorrow from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. For a list of participating sites, visit deadiversion.usdoj.gov.
Many police departments also have medication drop boxes available throughout the year, McKinney said.