To say this region’s response to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s annual National Prescription Drug Take-Back was impressive would be an understatement. More than a ton of unwanted prescription drugs were deposited in drop boxes placed in 34 counties by Operation UNITE.
The 2,021.5 pounds of prescription medications UNITE collected over the weekend represents an increase of more than 850 pounds from the last take back day in April.
It takes many pills to make a pound. To collect more than 2,000 pounds in one day represents thousands and thousands of prescription pills no longer sitting unused and unwanted in medicine cabinets and bathroom and bedside drawers throughout a region that has been plagued by the abuse of prescription that tha has reached epidemic proportions and cost the lives of hundreds of individuals.
Operation UNITE operates throughout the 34 counties that make up the Fifth Congressional District represented by Hal Rogers. Since much of Boyd County outside of Ashland became part of the Fifth District through redistricting approved by the Kentucky General Assembly, UNITE placed drop boxes locally as part of the latest campaign.
The take-back day initiative provides people a way to dispose of prescription drugs in a safe and responsible way. Operation UNITE President Dan Smoot said getting the medications out of medicine cabinets reduces the potential for abuse.
Many routinely flush unused prescription drugs down the toilet, which used to be encouraged. But health officials now strongly discourage that method of disposal because of environmental concerns. Collecting pills helps to guard against potentially harmful effects from antibiotics, hormones, painkillers and other drugs getting into the water supply.
“We are very pleased with the response from citizens who wanted to get rid of their outdated or unwanted medications in a safe and responsible way,” said Dan Smoot, UNITE’s president. “Getting these pills out of the medicine cabinet will reduce the potential for their abuse and misuse.”
According to the 2011 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 70 percent of people abusing prescription pain relievers got them through friends or relatives, a statistic that includes raiding the family medicine cabinet. That study also found twice as many Americans regularly abused prescription drugs than the number of those who regularly used cocaine, hallucinogens, heroin and inhalants combined.
The large number of pills deposited in UNITE’s drop boxes is a clear indication that residents of this region are fully aware of the problem of prescription drug abuse and want to do what they can to curb it. Many of us have had friends and family members die from overdoses of prescription medications.
A report released earlier this month by the Trust For America’s Health found that Kentucky had the third highest mortality rate of prescription drug overdoses in 2010 (23.6 per 100,000), with the number of all drug overdose deaths more than quadrupling since 1999 (4.9 per 100,000). Nationally the rate has doubled, with 50 people dying from an overdose of prescription drugs every day.
While the one-day take-out day has passed, the effort to collect unused prescription drugs continues. Operation UNITE has helped establish 41 permanent medication drop box sites that are available free to citizens during operating hours that vary by location. For a list of permanent drop box locations in the UNITE service region visit http://operationunite.org/investigations/med-drop-box-sites/. In Boyd County, there is a medication drop box at the Boyd County Sheriff’s Office in the Charles Sinnette Courthouse Annex in Catlettsburg.
“Every county in our region has at least one permanent drop-off site that can be used year-round,” Smoot noted. “We hope more and more people will take advantage of this service.”
Residents are asked to remove all identifying labels from prescription bottles before bringing them to the dropoff sites.
With this weekend’s collection, UNITE has collected 4,614.7 pounds of medications since the drop boxes were first established October 1, 2012.
There is evidence the abuse of prescription drugs is beginning to wane in this region. Unfortunately, while fewer area residents seem to be abusing prescription drugs, the use of heroin and methamphetamines is increasing in this region. The war against drugs never ends; it just shifts of different types of abuse.