by Elisa Hawkes
Coastal Journal staff
Bi-annual collections of expired and extra prescription medication have been well received by the public, according to Sheriff Joel Merry of the Sagadahoc County Sheriff's Department, so well that the local Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force decided to expand the program. Five new medication collection drop boxes opened on February 14 at the Sagadahoc County Sheriff's Department and at the Bath, Brunswick, Richmond, and Topsham Police Departments.
Prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, samples, pet medications, ointments, lotions, liquid medication in glass or leak-proof containers, and inhalers will be accepted. Identifying information such as name, address and prescription number can be blocked out at the discretion of the depositor. There are some items that will not be accepted, including needles or "sharps" of any kind, thermometers, bloody or infectious waste, hydrogen peroxide, and aerosol cans. Long-term care facilities, clinics and businesses must contact their local law enforcement agencies for disposal assistance, and should not use the drop boxes.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a division of at the National Institute of Health, prescription drug abuse is a serious problem. As of 2009, 16 million Americans age 12 and older had taken prescription pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants or sedatives for non-medical purposes at least once during the year prior to the survey.
NIDA defines prescription drug abuse as the taking of prescription medication by someone for whom it was not prescribed, or taking it for reasons or in doses other than as prescribed. The three most commonly abused classes of drugs are opioid pain killers such as Vicodin® or OxyContin®, central nervous system depressants such as Valium® or Xanax®, and stimulants such as Ritalin® or Concerta®. Of these, opioids are the most widely abused prescription drugs, and can lead to addiction or even death.
According to the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, as of December 2010, Maine had the highest rate of prescription drug abuse in the nation. Evidence shows pharmaceutical overdose deaths in Maine today outnumber those due to motor vehicle accidents. Nearly one fourth of high school seniors have used someone else's prescription drugs.
However, Maine consistently has one of the highest per-capita disposal rates in the country during the bi-annual medication collection events. According to Merry, it is the hope of the Drug Abuse Task Force that these collection boxes will make it easier for households to safely discard medications before they become a problem in the home.
Communities Against Substance Abuse (CASA) suggests four steps to help parents reduce prescription drug abuse in their teens:
• Keep track of medications
• Secure medications
• Properly dispose of unused medication in drop boxes
• Talk to your children about the dangers of prescription drug abuse
Many people think a drug is less dangerous because it has been prescribed, but prescription drugs are just as dangerous as illicit drugs when taken in a manner inconsistent with their intended use.
Chief Mike Field of the Bath Police Department said their drop box was installed about a week prior to the Tuesday kick-off. Field said community response has been excellent, as the box has been filled once already.
"The lobby is open 24-7," Field said. "The prescription drug problem in Bath encompasses all ages. It's not just confined to teens. We are in a pill-taking society. Painkillers are common. It's easy to get OxyContin®."
Field says prescription drug abuse leads to theft and burglary. Those addicted will try to find drugs where they can, and medicine cabinets usually have left-over pills.
The collection boxes are all made from steel and are locked, according to Deputy Chief Marc Hagan of the Brunswick Police Department. In Bath, as well as other locations, the box is bolted to the ground. The Brunswick box is in the lobby, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Hagan said the community's response to the drop box has been good, and that the prescription drug problem in Brunswick is prevalent, especially among teens. Brunswick teens have admitted to obtaining the substances from family members and friends who have left them unaccounted for and unsecured. Hagan echoed the assertion that opiates are most often abused.
"In addition to drug abuse," Hagan said, "many people get rid of prescription drugs by flushing them down the toilet. Nursing homes do this a lot. They seep into the water system, and can't be purified out. We're drinking it. That's really disturbing to me."
The Federal Drug Enforcement Administration is responsible for transferring drugs from drop-off boxes and collection events out of Maine, according to Hagan. Cuts to the administration's budget could affect the program, he cautions.
Merry said the boxes were paid for through grant funding from the Davenport Trust, a local foundation in Bath.