By Chris Caraveo
Citizens are getting ready to rid themselves of unneeded drugs with an upcoming take-back event across the nation.
Saturday is the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Drug Take Back Event.
The biannual event is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 27 at thousands of collection sites around the country, including at the Sun City and Sun City West Posse Offices, the Westbrook Posse Community Center, and Rio Vista Recreation Center in Peoria.
“DEA has touched a nerve in America with its recent Take Back events, as evidenced by the millions of pounds of pills collected during our previous 16 events,” stated DEA Special Agent in Charge Brian D. Boyle. “These events are only made possible through the dedicated work and commitment of our local, state and federal partners, and DEA thanks each and every one of them for their continuous efforts on behalf of the American people.”
The nationwide event is part of a mission to combat the misuse of prescription drugs. According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 6 million Americans misused controlled prescription drugs. The majority of abused prescription drugs were obtained from family and friends, often from home medicine cabinets.
The disposal service is free and anonymous, no questions asked. However, the DEA cannot accept liquids, needles, or sharps. Only pills or patches.
About 6,000 collection sites will be manned by nearly 5,000 partner law enforcement agencies.
Erica Curry, public information officer for the Phoenix Field Division of the DEA, said all collection boxes are turned into the DEA and subsequently transported to an incinerator for destruction.
The DEA does not release the location of the facility, Ms. Curry said.
In October, 58 agencies in Arizona participated in the national event, providing 87 locations for residents to dispose of their unneeded drugs.
That month, Arizonans disposed of 11,325 pounds of drugs. In the 16 national events since 2011, Arizonans have ridden themselves of 156,161 pounds (about 78 tons). Nationwide, about 5,439.5 tons have been collected.
Dean Baker, property and evidence coordinator with Apache Junction police, said his agency also runs its own drop-off bin inside its station that can be accessed as long as the doors are open. The El Mirage Police Department is another agency providing its own drop-off spot indoors.
“I would say it’s more of a consistent stream of people who come in, but never an actual crowd,” Mr. Baker said about the take back event. “We do seem to collect quite a bit though.”
The U.S. Department of Justice says the rates of prescription drug abuse in the U.S. are alarmingly high, as are the number of accidental poisonings and overdoses due to these drugs.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 91 Americans die each day from an opioid overdose. Some painkiller abusers move on to heroin; four out of five new heroin users started with painkillers, the CDC states.
The DOJ said flushing medications down the toilet or throwing them in the trash pose potential safety and health hazards.
However, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has said when a take-back or mail back program is not available, resorting to trash or flush disposal is not as harmful as one might think. It all depends on how it’s disposed.
If disposing via the trash, people should mix the medicines — but not crushing tablets or capsules — with dirt, cat litter, or used coffee grounds. Then place the mixture in a container such as a zip-top or sealable plastic bag. Finally, throw the container in the trash can.
Before throwing out an empty pill bottle or medicine packaging, scratch out all personal information on the prescription label to make it unreadable.
Because children or even pets could wander into the trash, the FDA recommends households with unneeded medicines should flush them. The FDA lists 15 medicines recommended for disposal by flushing. Those include oxycodone, morphine, methadone, and even fentanyl, which is tied to the opioid epidemic in the U.S.
The FDA has further found that flushing these types of medicines would only contribute a small fraction of the total amount of medicine found in surface and drinking water. Thus, people should not be concerned that those medicines will wind up contaminating their water.
“The majority of medicines found in water are a result of the body’s natural routes of drug elimination (in urine or feces),” the FDA says. “Based on the available data, FDA believes that the known risk of harm to humans from accidental exposure to these medicines far outweighs any potential risk to humans or the environment from flushing them.”
For more information or to locate a collection site near you, go the DEA Prescription Drug Take Back Day web site and enter your zip code, city, or state. You can also call 800-882-9539.