Safe disposal for unused opioid drugs

Berkshire County District Attorney David Capeless is worried about all the unused controlled substances that are finding their way into the illegal drug market. Drug dealers are now selling these prescription medications along side illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine, and that could be lethal.

If you them alone or, even worse, combined with alcohol or an over-the-counter drug like Benadryl, your body might just forget that it’s supposed to breathe. In 2000, there were 578,000 doses of Schedule Two opioids dispensed by pharmacists in Berkshire County. By 2008, that number was up over 3 million doses! So it is good news that on April 30, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., you can pack up your unused drugs and turn them in at any one of 11 sites throughout Berkshire County. The drug return program is called “Berkshire County Rx Round Up.”

This is a very important program for a lot of reasons. We know, for example, that many drugs, when flushed down the toilet or even excreted through our urine, are finding their way into our water supply. We know that people leave drugs in their medicine cabinets where children might have access to them. More and more unused drugs, including narcotics, are finding their way onto the black market.

Capeless tells me that the opioid class of drugs, which includes products like oxycodone, methadone and morphine, has become particularly insidious. Between 2000 and 2009 there were more than 160 overdose deaths in Berkshire County. Two thirds of those deaths involved prescription drugs, and of those, 67 involved opioids. More deaths were caused by prescription drugs than by heroin or cocaine. The more we can do to get these drugs out of circulation, the better.

As part of a national Drug Enforcement Agency effort, Capeless and his colleagues have created this take-back program that enables people to safely get rid of these excess drugs. For those who are concerned that “big brother” may take an interest in what kind of medications you are turning in, Capeless says not to worry. The name of the game is to get this stuff off the streets and to save lives. No questions will be asked. If you wish, you can transfer the drugs to envelopes with the name of the drug written on the outside. That way, officials can have a better idea about what drugs are finding their way onto our streets.

It turns out that some of the worst of our bad-guy dealers have been getting the drugs from some very unlikely sources, including elderly residents who have fallen on hard times and have been reduced to selling these drugs to those who trade them on the black market. Our pharmacists are acutely aware of their own responsibilities. They are required to monitor the Schedule Two drugs carefully and to demand legal identification from those coming into pharmacies. I spoke with one druggist who tells me that she often calls a doctor when she smells a rat.

Those seeking these drugs have been known to add zeros to the quantity on the prescription. Sometimes pharmacists have to get the police involved, and while my source tells me that it doesn’t happen every day, illegal requests do come into the drug store on a fairly regular basis.

Some of us have painkillers in our medicine cabinets left over from surgery or illness. Some of us have had hospice care for our loved ones, and these important palliative care drugs have been left behind.

We certainly don’t want to flush them down the toilet, so let’s take advantage of this opportunity. The drugs will be taken to the Pittsfield incinerator and disposed of. Good riddance.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 4/16/11

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