Pharmacies across the Triangle and the state took on a reversed role Saturday – instead of only filling drug prescriptions, they became drop-off sites for leftover doses in the latest effort to counter North Carolina’s growing prescription drug abuse problem.
Residents who wanted to get rid of their medicine could go to any of the 136 locations listed on Operation Medicine Drop’s website, which includes sites ranging from shopping centers to fire halls. In March, 230 sites collected 7.7 million doses of prescription medication, according to the N.C. Attorney General’s Office.
The Durham County Sherriff’s Office alone collected 34,000 pills, said Paul Sherwin, the office’s public information officer.
Keeping pills from abusers
“Prescription drug abuse is a problem that we’re facing locally,” Sherwin said. “The emphasis on these operations is just to keep the medications out of the wrong hands.”
Prescription drugs have become the second-most abused drug among North Carolinians from 12 to 17 years old, behind marijuana. Prescription and over-the-counter medicines caused three-fourths of all unintentional poisonings in the state, according to the N.C. Division of Public Health, and in 2011 about 1,000 people in the state died from prescription drug overdoses.
“Prescription drugs are leading to more overdose deaths in North Carolina, especially among young people,” state Attorney General Roy Cooper said in a news release Friday. “To protect your family, clean out your medicine cabinet and dispose of old medications at an event near you.”
Nationwide, drug overdose has beat out even motor vehicle accidents to become the most prevalent cause of unintentional death, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Saturday’s drop-off was part of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s fifth drug take-back day. The drop-off event, co-sponsored by the State Bureau of Investigation, local law enforcement agencies, Safe Kids North Carolina and the federal DEA, was just one of several initiatives North Carolina has taken to curb the problem.
A state law went into effect this March requiring pharmacies to check and record identification before filling some prescription drugs, including Oxycontin, morphine and Vicodin, in an effort to target fraud and prevent abuse. It only tackles part of the problem, Sherwin said, but it may be helping.
“These laws have gone into effect to stop pharmacy shopping, and I think these laws will help drive that down,” he said, explaining that in the past people would take prescriptions to multiple pharmacies. Now pharmacists must keep records of the photo identification on file.
Police see many cases where prescription drugs are stolen from medicine cabinets either in home break-ins or by family members, Sherwin said, and the laws don’t combat those instances.
Saturday’s event targeted alternative routes of obtaining prescription drugs by ensuring that they simply aren’t available for the taking.
If you missed it
For those who missed the drop-off, Sherwin said the Durham Police Department has a permanent drop-off in its lobby and future events are sure to come.
“You walk up, we’ll take it in any form, no questions asked,” Sherwin said.