In advance of National Drug Take Back Day, on Saturday, local and state police are reminding the public that unused prescriptions can pose a threat and should be removed in order to prevent improper disposal or misuse.

"This is part of a wider effort, but it's an important event to protect the entire community," said Stonington Police Capt. Todd Olson. "Getting them out of homes helps to prevent misuse, whether accidental or intentional, and prevents the damage that can be caused to the environment or animals when flushed."

National Drug Take Back Day is sponsored by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. There have been 16 national collections in the past decade. The program has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, expanding to twice-per-year collection efforts and gaining participants across the U.S.

During an October 2018 collection, more than 4,700 law enforcement agencies participated at 5,839 sites, according to DEA statistics. The result? A total of 914,236 pounds of medication were turned in.

The Westerly, Stonington, Richmond, Hopkinton and Charlestown police departments have been regular participants in recent years, along with the Connecticut and Rhode Island State Police. The disposal service is free and anonymous, no questions asked.

"We participate because we believe it makes the community safer," said Richmond Police Chief Elwood M. Johnson Jr. "Many people in recovery began their battle with addiction because of easy access to unsecured pills or prescriptions belonging to a friend or family member. By removing unneeded meds from the community, including potent opioids, the community is joining us in helping to prevent many 'first-time' users from access to something that they don’t need and may forever regret."

In Rhode Island, 4,364 pounds of unwanted and expired prescriptions were collected and disposed of by the DEA during the October 2018 collection. Overall, in its 16 previous events, the DEA and its partners have taken in more than 11 million pounds of pills. 

Local departments have seen an increase in the number of medications disposed of, both at these events and through drop-box locations in police stations that are monitored and available for public use at all times.

The multipronged effort led Westerly police to collect over 600 pounds of medications last year, Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey said. Stonington police collected and disposed of approximately 516 pounds of medications in 2018, and have already taken back 240 pounds so far in 2019.

Hopkinton Police Capt. Mark Carrier said his department has disposed of approximately 50 pounds quarterly, or 200 pounds per year, in the past several years, while Johnson said Richmond police disposed of 157 pounds as a result of the October 2018 collection alone.

U.S. Attorney Aaron L. Weisman, who represents the District of Rhode Island, and DEA Providence Resident Agent in Charge Sam J. Masiello said these local efforts play a major role in helping to reduce prescription abuse in the state. At a press conference this week, they encouraged residents to consider turning over what they aren't using.

“Rates of prescription drug abuse in the United States are alarmingly high, as are the number of accidental poisonings and overdoses due to these drugs,” Weisman said. “This is a perfect opportunity to spring clean your medicine cabinet and safely dispose of expired or unwanted prescriptions. It just might save a life.”

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., officers will be on hand at police stations in Westerly, Stonington, Hopkinton, Richmond and Charlestown to help expedite the process. Pills and other solid forms of medication will be accepted. The departments are not equipped to take back or handle syringes or liquid medications

People wishing to dispose of liquids are asked to contact local pharmacies to see whether they would accept them, or to talk with a doctor about proper disposal.

For more on the collection, including a full list of participating locations, visit https://takebackday.dea.gov.

jvallee@thewesterlysun.com

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