With the number of emergency room visits involving misuse or abuse of prescription drugs increasing 98 percent in a five-year period, according to federal data, finding a way to get unused and unwanted drugs out of medicine cabinets is a growing concern for local law enforcement.
On April 30, local law enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is hosting a free way for people to dispose of old prescription drugs lingering in their medicine cabinet.
During the first dump the drugs program in September, Arizonans turned in more than 6,200 pounds — more than three tons of prescription drugs at nearly 75 sites operated by DEA state and local law enforcement partners.
In Payson, officers collected 60 pounds of unused or expired medication during the prescription drug take-back day.
“There are many people out there who do not know what they should do with their old medication and this is a free and informal option for this,” said Lt. Tim Scott with the sheriff’s office. “We ask nothing of those wanting to get rid of them.”
Getting these drugs out of medicine cabinets means we keep them out of the hands of children, Scott said. And while the program captures only a portion of the unwanted prescription drugs, Scott said it raises the public’s awareness of how dangerous these pills can be in the wrong hands.
In 2009, there were about 1.25 million emergency room visits linked to prescription drug use with pain relievers topping the list at 596,000 visits.
The number of prescription drug related emergency room visits far exceeds those involving illicit drugs, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found.
From 2004 to 2009, the number of emergency room visits resulting from illicit drugs dropped 1.8 percent.
With prescription drug abuse on the rise, police are seeing an increase in prescription related theft.
“We in law enforcement have long been aware of the tie-in between drug addiction and violent crime,” said Col. Robert Halliday, director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
“Working together with our state and local partners and a concerned public, we will eliminate a major source of abused prescription drugs, and reduce the hazard they pose to our families and communities in a safe, legal, and environmentally sound way,” said Acting DEA Special Agent in Charge Doug Coleman.
From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on April 30, Payson residents can dump their prescription drugs off in the Walmart parking lot at the sheriff’s office command trailer.
The sheriff’s office will turn collected pills over to the DEA for disposal.