My Turn/Sullivan: Save lives today by dropping off old prescriptions


Published: 10/21/2016 5:47:16 PM

Getting prescription and other drugs out of circulation is a top priority of the Northwestern District Attorney’s office because this is prevention at the most basic level. The inescapable facts are that one in four teens have used prescription medicine at least once in their lifetime to get high and most of these teens report getting those drugs from the medicine cabinets of family and friends. Abuse of “legal” drugs has also created a market for illegal drugs, chiefly opiates, something that is a driver of crime, family dysfunction and community heartache.

At a Hampshire HOPE coalition meeting last week, Dr. Mindy Hull from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner explained the crisis in the stark terms a medical examiner might use. From her vantage point, she said, the epidemic is claiming a generation of people. This epidemic affects all sectors of our community.

Motivated by that sobering reality, my office held its first prescription drug collection event in 2011 working in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Agency and local law enforcement. Since then, the need to remove excess drugs from family medicine cabinets has only grown stronger. We’ve hosted at least seven other one-day collection events and had permanent drug collection kiosks set up in the lobbies of two dozen police stations in Hampshire and Franklin counties and the town of Athol.

Collectively, these efforts have resulted in the safe disposal of 27,000 pounds of drugs. We will never know how many lives were saved as a result — and that’s the nature of prevention work. It’s not always quantifiable. But make no mistake about it: this is an important strategy in our collective fight against the opioid epidemic.

The Northwestern District Attorney’s office will hold another drug collection day today, Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in conjunction with National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, again working with the DEA and local law enforcement to make this happen. People can drop off unneeded and unwanted medications at the following Franklin County police departments — Deerfield, Greenfield, Leverett, Sunderland — as well as Athol.

The drugs will be properly incinerated at a certified facility later that same day. Everyone should know by now that flushing pharmaceutical drugs down the toilet or throwing them in the trash is bad for the environment and hurts wildlife. Studies suggest that 80 percent of streams in the United States contain small amounts of human antibiotics. Fish and other aquatic animals have also shown adverse effects from medicines in the water.

Another benefit of safe drug disposal practices is helping elders clean out their medicine cabinets, which can help prevent accidental overdoses and the misappropriation of prescription drugs by personal care assistants or loved ones.

Police station boxes are accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, ready to accept all prescription and nonprescription drugs as well as vitamins and veterinary meds. Medicines may remain in their original container with labels.

You might ask, Why hold a prescription drug day when there are disposal boxes at local stations? We want to make it as convenient as possible for people to rid their homes of medicines no longer in use, because we believe this is a matter of life and death. Some people are reluctant to get rid of prescription pain killers, preferring to hold onto them in the event they sustain another injury.

Not only is that practice illegal, but it is dangerous and not worth the trouble it saves of getting another prescription when needed. It’s a fact that teens misusing prescription drugs has led to addiction and death — just as it’s a fact that failure to use seatbelts and bike helmets lead to injuries and death.

As a society we were successful in changing the culture around seat belt and helmet usage. Now it’s time to change the habits and practices around prescription drug safety and disposal. We may never know how many, but we do know it will save lives.

David E. Sullivan is the Northwestern District Attorney.

Greenfield Recorder

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Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
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