Drug take-back day to help clear medicine shelf and reduce a hazard
With prescription drugs now involved in most drug deaths in Washington, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration is urging people to clean out their medicine cabinets and participate in Saturday's National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, when sites across the state will take unwanted prescription drugs for disposal.
Seattle Times health reporter
State's Prescription Monitoring ProgramFederal grants restart stalled effort
In a related program, the state announced Wednesday it has received federal grants to continue work on a Prescription Monitoring Program earlier authorized by lawmakers but suspended during the state revenue shortfall.
That program will collect controlled-substance prescription data from pharmacies for a central database available to medical providers concerned about opiate abuse.
For more information: www.doh.wa.gov/hsqa/pmp/pmp.htm
How you can safely dispose of your unwanted prescription drugsDEA's National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day:
When and where: From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at locations listed by Zip code at www.dea.gov. Prescription drugs, including controlled substances, will be accepted, but not syringes.
To dispose of needles: Call your pharmacy, doctor's office or hospital for information. King County: www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/communicable/hiv/resources/disposal.aspx.
State locations to dispose of prescription drugs: www.medicinereturn.com. Explains what you can return where and when. List of locations by county.
Don't know if your drug is a controlled substance? www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/schedules/
Prescription drugs are now involved in most drug deaths in Washington, and one easy place to find them is the home medicine cabinet — often chock-full of leftover Vicodin or Valium tablets from various dental visits, day surgery or bad-back episodes.
Drug counselors and addiction specialists tell stories about repair people surreptitiously snatching a few pills from each bottle. In their own homes, teens might pilfer pills to sell, give to friends or take themselves — often not realizing that mixing drugs or taking them with alcohol can have deadly results.
Yet as dangerous as leftover drugs can be in the wrong hands, there's often no good way to dispose of them.
Most disposal options pose their own safety or health risks — throwing drugs into the toilet, for example, poisons water and fish. The garbage can may not be a secure disposal, and even pharmacies that have collection programs won't take controlled substances such as painkillers or muscle relaxants.
On Saturday, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Seattle will join other local agencies across the nation to take your unwanted prescription drugs — no questions asked, no ID required, and it's free. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the sites will take any unwanted prescription drug, including controlled substances, but no needles or illegal drugs.
The DEA will later burn the drugs at an undisclosed location. Go to www.dea.gov for a ZIP code-specific list of drop-off sites.
The effort comes a few days late for nine Bremerton middle-school students who ended up in Harrison Medical Center emergency rooms Tuesday after taking prescription meds handed out by a classmate, police said. Bremerton police Sgt. Randy Plumb said at least some of the drugs came from a student who brought them from home.
The pills, Plumb said, may have included Cymbalta, an antidepressant, and OxyContin, an opiate painkiller. "We weren't able to recover any of the pills," Plumb added. "We don't really have a good way of confirming what they took."
The students were treated and released Tuesday and are expected to recover, but Plumb said some may face charges.
"I think this is going to be an eye-opener to a lot of parents," he said. "I hope they'll take this seriously and take steps to secure [drugs] properly. ... Depending on the dosage amount, OxyContin or opiate-related drugs definitely could have been deadly. We're very lucky."
Bremerton, like many communities, has no official sites designated to take back unwanted controlled-substances, although Plumb said the Bremerton Police Department would accept such drugs.
In a statement from the DEA, Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart said Saturday's take-back symbolizes the agency's commitment to halting the rise in addiction caused by the misuse of prescription drugs and to "reduce the hazard they pose to our families and communities."
While many local experts hope for more than a one-time take-back, longer-term options are not yet available.
Last year, state legislation that would have created a secure, convenient drug take-back program — mostly paid for by drug companies — failed to gain traction.
Local health officials and others say they plan to try again in the next session, citing dual goals of curbing prescription-drug abuse while keeping waste medicines from polluting waterways and drinking-water supplies.
However, national legislation proposed by Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, passed the House on Wednesday, and the Senate is working on similar legislation. It would make it easier for states to set up take-back programs and help ensure that drugs don't end up poisoning water.
Most people who study prescription-drug abuse believe having safe, easy disposal available for leftover drugs would help. A 2009 DEA national survey found that among people age 12 and older who had used pain relievers non-medically in the past 12 months, more than 55 percent had gotten the drug free from a friend or relative.
In Washington state, said Caleb Banta-Green of the University of Washington's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, a third of the 10th-graders who used prescription painkillers to get high in 2008 got them from a friend; 21 percent used their own prescription from a doctor or dentist; and 15 percent said they took them from their own home or another home without permission.
Most did not get them from drug dealers or through the Internet.
Another 2009 study, done by Gilmore Research Group for a number of public and private organizations in Oregon and Washington, found that 40 percent of residents who disposed of medications threw them into the sink or a toilet and about 50 percent put them in the trash.
Mark Thomas, agent in charge of the DEA's Seattle office, said a single take-back day won't fix prescription-drug abuse or disposal safety-and-health issues.
"But it dramatically gets at the root causes by raising the public awareness of the problem," he said. "I think it's a very simple thing they can do, and it can have quite a big impact."
Carol M. Ostrom: 206-464-2249 or email@example.com
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