DEA offers a safe way to dispose of those old medications

Date Published: 
April 28, 2017

Coastal Point photos • Shaun M. Lambert: Ocean View Police Department's Capt. Heath Hall poses at the department's drug drop-off location, provided by CVS Pharmacy.Coastal Point photos • Shaun M. Lambert: Ocean View Police Department's Capt. Heath Hall poses at the department's drug drop-off location, provided by CVS Pharmacy.This Saturday, community members are being encouraged to clean out their medicine cabinets and properly dispose of medications through the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.

“We’ve been participating in drug takeback since 2007, so this will be our 10th year,” said Ocean View Police Department Capt. Heath Hall. “They started it once a year but then started doing it twice a year, just because it was a very well accepted service. They saw the demand.”

This Saturday, April 29, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., a dozen sites in Sussex County will be open to collect any unwanted medications that members of the public no longer wish to keep in their homes.

Along with the Ocean View Police Department, other Sussex County collection sites available to the public on Saturday include the Dagsboro Police Department, the Selbyville Police Department, the Selbyville CVS Pharmacy, Delaware State Police Troop 4, the Lewes Police Department, Delaware State Police Troop 7, as well as the Rehoboth Beach, Milford, Milton and Laural police departments and the Delaware Department of Justice’s Sussex County office.

According to the DEA, in April of last year, the Obama administration and more than 4,200 of its state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners collected 893,498 pounds of unwanted medicines — about 447 tons — at almost 5,400 sites spread through all 50 states, beating its previous record of 390 tons in the spring of 2014 by 57 tons, or more than 114,000 pounds.

Last year, there were 23 collection sites in the state of Delaware, which collected 7,684 pounds of prescription drugs. Of those drugs, 265 pounds were collected at the Ocean View Police Department.

Hall said the DEA will take any medication in pill or liquid form. The only caveat is that they cannot accept anything with metal, such as syringes, because they cannot be incinerated.

“The only thing the DEA will not collect is syringes — anything metal that won’t burn. But we’ll take liquids, plastic bottles, glass bottles.”

The program was at first started a decade ago to help keep the drugs from going into the water system, by people flushing old medications down their toilets. However, Hall said these days it also protects households from prescription medication abuse and possible theft.

“Now, it puts a damper on anybody trying to abuse any non-prescribed prescription drugs. It can keep people from having drugs stolen right out of their medicine cabinets,” he said.

According to the DEA, 8 out of 10 new heroin users began by abusing prescription painkillers and moved to heroin when they could no longer obtain or afford those painkillers.

Hall said the department jumped on the opportunity to participate in the takeback when they first heard about it and even went a step further, by setting up a collection box of its own.

“We called up to the post office one day: ‘Hey — do you have any old mailboxes you want to get rid of?’” recalled Hall. “Before we knew it, we had a few. We painted one up and started using that.”

The police department used its retired mailbox, secured with locks, until a better option came long.

“Then we were contacted by CVS Pharmacy and told about their Safe Communities Program. We just had to fill out a registration form and they provided us with the box you see out there today,” he said. “Usually about once a quarter I get an email from them asking the weight of drugs we’ve collected since the last time they asked.

“It’s been a great partnership. It’s a great service they provide for free. It didn’t cost us or the taxpayers a dime.”

Now the department accepts medications year-round, right in the lobby of the Wallace A. Melson Municipal Building.

“We will accept prescription medications all year long. Monday through Friday, 8 to 4, our doors are open — no questions asked. They can come dispose of their prescription medicines in the proper way, and we will hold them until the Take Back Day arrives and then turn them over to the DEA for proper disposal,” he said. “I thought that since we collect all year-round that the Take Back Day would die down. It really doesn’t.”

Ocean View resident Bill Wichmann, who is an OVPD volunteer and mans the front desk, said people come in throughout the week to drop off medications.

“Usually there’s a fair amount that do bring back. People just don’t know what to do. We’re used to, traditionally, taking old prescription drugs and flushing them down the toilet. This is an excellent program because it all gets incinerated. It’s a safe disposal method that works well,” he said, adding, “People can come in any day. They don’t have to wait until we have that special drug take back day. Bring it in any day — the box is always open.”

Currently, the department has six and a half boxes — approximately 214 pounds — of turned-in medications collected, which will be added to the medications citizens bring on Saturday.

“If I were to crack one of these open, there may be a few packages, but to save space, it’s mostly just pills. We dump the pills in and discard the containers in a separate trash bag,” said Hall. “We’ve been doing it for 10 years, and it still boggles my mind every time I crack that box open… Think of that going into our water table. And this is just us, and just what’s being turned in.”

Hall said the box, which they empty periodically, houses all kinds of that which citizens have turned in.

“We’ve had everything from shampoo to over-the-counter aspirin to powerful prescription Oxycontins. It amazes me every time I crack that box open and the prescription drugs fall out of it — literally,” he said, noting the department’s collection box has not received any illicit drugs. “A lot of times, family members will pass away and family will come down and clean out their house. They’ll clean out the medicine cabinet and bring it here.”

The department is fortunate to have the space in which to collect medications year-round, said Hall.

“We like doing it. We know it’s a good thing. We’re fortunate we do have the space. Some police departments have a closet for an evidence room and wouldn’t be able to keep eight boxes. It would fill up their whole room. We are fortunate that we have a facility where we can store this.

“We’re able to do it, so we do it. Back in the day, we used to be in the double-wide trailers or back by the park,” he said of the police department’s former digs. “Our evidence was kept in a mailbox. It was locked, and the only person who could get in was the chief. If you had something bigger that wouldn’t fit in the box, you had to call him…”

In its new location in the Melson building, there’s room for evidence but also for a program like the Drug Take Back Day.

Hall said the department is continuing to educate the public on the program, as there is an influx of visitors and new residents and property owners in the area.

He said he hopes community members will take advantage of the service to protect the water, themselves and their loved ones.

“The importance of this initiative — it really doesn’t take time out of the police department’s day to maintain it,” Hall said. “For as valuable as it is in keeping that stuff out of being used for illicit reasons or out of our water system … it’s a great service that doesn’t take a lot of time to maintain it.”

The Ocean View Police Department is located at 201 Central Avenue in Ocean View. For more information, call the department at (302) 539-1111 or visit https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/takeback.

Take Back Day: Saturday, April 29, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Local participating locations

Ocean View Police Department

201 Central Ave., Ocean View

Dagsboro Police Department

33134 Main St., Dagsboro

Selbyville Police Department

68 W. Church St., Selbyville

CVS Pharmacy

36252 Lighthouse Rd., Selbyville

Delaware State Police Troop 4

23652 Shortly Rd., Georgetown

Lewes Board of Public Works

129 Schley Ave., Lewes

Delaware State Police Troop 7

18006 Coastal Hwy., Lewes

Rehoboth Beach Police Department

229 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach

Delaware Dept. of Justice

18947 John Jay Williams Hwy., Rehoboth Beach