It’s a common occurrence in many people’s medicine cabinets — bottles and bottles of unfinished and, perhaps, expired prescriptions.
This year, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania launched its Drug Take-Back Initiative, placing its MedReturn boxes in various police stations and other locations throughout the state. In Lackawanna County, the boxes are available at the sheriff’s office, the Carbondale Police Station and, locally, at the South Abington Township Police Station, 104 Shady Lane Road.
“The impetus for the entire program is to keep prescription drugs out of the hands of people they weren’t intended for; prescription drug abuse is becoming a very, very huge problem,” said South Abington Township police chief Robert Gerrity. “We have learned, and other law enforcement has learned, that it is not uncommon for people to go into their parents’ or grandparents’ medicine cabinets and take prescription pain relievers, sedatives and so forth. It is a growing trend.”
According to a report on prescription drug abuse by Trust for America’s Health, a Washington D.C.-based non-profit organization that advocates for disease prevention, Pennsylvania has the 14th highest drug overdose mortality rate in the nation and the majority of those deaths are from prescription drug abuse. Trust for America’s Health also states that the mortality rate in Pennsylvania has increased by 89 percent since 1999. Nationally, the rates have doubled in 29 states since that year, quadrupled in four of those states and tripled in 10 more.
“It is becoming such an epidemic situation that we in law enforcement thought it would be best for people to have a place where they can dispose of these items properly,” Gerrity said.
When the MedReturn box is filled to capacity, representatives from the Lackawanna County District Attorney’s office empty it and the drugs are then taken to an incinerator for proper
“About a month ago, we emptied the box for the first time,” Gerrity said. “It was literally overflowing — we could not believe the amount of drugs that had been turned in. It is an asset to the community to have it here, people should know it is here.”
Gerrity said that people with serious physical conditions might stockpile certain strong pain relievers like Vicodin and Percoset and that addiction is possible, leading to a potential addiction to street drugs like heroin when the prescriptions become unavailable.
“We are very cognizant of what addiction is and what it does to people,” he said. “We’ve seen families and careers ruined and we don’t like to see that. We’d much rather help people, that’s our job.”
People can bring their unfinished prescriptions to the South Abington Township Police Station weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Officials are asking that all labels are removed to ensure confidentiality. For questions or for additional information, call the police station at 570-586-2111.