HEALTH

Take Back Day Gets Unused Drugs Out of Medicine Cabinets

By Erin Delmore
Correspondent

“What has fed the heroin problem has been the abuse of prescription drugs,” said Carl Kotowski, Drug Enforcement Administration special agent in charge, New Jersey Division.

The Drug Enforcement Administration is partnering with New Jersey communities for its 11th National Drug Take Back Day. On April 30, municipal police departments and area organizations will be collecting unused prescription and over the counter drugs for safe disposal. Their message: “spring cleaning” includes your medicine cabinet.

“You have young individuals who might have a sports injury. They might have been hurt. They might be taking prescription painkillers. And after a while, they get addicted to it. They feel that they can only use it to get rid of the pain. When they do not have any more supplies on their own, they can go into their parents’ medicine cabinet or a neighbor’s medicine cabinet or they try to go to the streets to purchase this medication if they have the funds available for it. When that’s not available to them, they turn to heroin,” said Joel Torres, senior coordinator for the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Team (ADAPT).

The “Take Back” program focuses on prevention: taking commonly-prescribed opioids and benzodiazepines like OxyContin, Percocet and Xanax out of the home and off the streets. Some drug drop-off centers are open 24/7.

One collection point in Livingston averages 200 pounds of unused prescription drugs per month. The DEA says it’s collected 5.5 million pounds nationwide since 2010, including 140,000 pounds — that’s 70 tons — in New Jersey.

“For a small state, although it’s very populated, the participation has been wonderful. So we’ve been very successful every time we have a Take Back in New Jersey,” Kotowski said.

The process is quick and confidential. Just peel or scratch off your and your doctor’s information on the bottle before dropping it off or bring the pills in a plastic bag. From there, they’re headed to a licensed facility for safe — and environmentally sound — disposal.

“We do not want them dumping them into their drains, into their sinks, into their bathrooms. It will hurt the environment and hurt the water as well,” Mankowitz said.

“Any animals that might get into your garbage, they would consume that and be harmed by that. So we say if you want to dispose of it, dispose of it with something people don’t want to consume, like old coffee grounds or any other material like that, cat litter, etc.,” Torres said.

The Take Back program doesn’t deal with syringes or liquids. Those should be dropped off at the hospital or pharmacy. And when picking up? Keep an eye out.

“Especially with the pharmacies, everybody should be checking their medications. They count them before they leave, because that’s another big thing that we’re having a problem with today, is that one or two pills will be missing from your prescription, so you want to make sure that you have everything counted, that you leave there with 30,” Mankowitz said.

Temporary collection sites will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on April 30. All permanent centers will be open.