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Alle-Kiski drug take-back program goes year-round to battle abuse

| Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013, 1:01 a.m.

Alle-Kiski Valley residents with expired and unwanted prescription and over-the-counter medications in their homes will no longer have to wait for special one-day collections to safely dispose of them.

Butler and Westmoreland are among 29 counties participating in a permanent statewide drug take-back program similar to the national effort run twice a year by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

Up to 250 medicine return boxes will be set up statewide to allow residents to safely and anonymously dispose of medications.

In the Valley, the “MedReturn” boxes will be found in one location in southeastern Butler County, Saxonburg, and in nine Westmoreland County locations. All the Valley locations are police stations.

Gov. Tom Corbett announced the kickoff of the program on Monday as part of his “Healthy Pennsylvania” plan.

The drug take-back initiative “is an important step in alleviating Pennsylvania's public health and safety concerns regarding prescription drug abuse and misuse, especially among our youth who don't have to look further than their own family's medicine cabinet,” Corbett said.

The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency received a $100,000 federal grant for the boxes. Local district attorney offices could apply for a portion of the funding by providing a plan for installation of the boxes and disposal of the medications.

Westmoreland County tied with Philadelphia County, at 21 each, for receiving the most drop boxes.

District Attorney John Peck said the county's request came from 21 police chiefs who asked for them.

Peck said authorities are aware of an upsurge in drug overdose deaths, with most caused by prescription drugs.

“People would be surprised to know the drug deaths are not due to heroin, they're due to prescription drugs, generally,” he said.

In 2012, Westmoreland County reported 71 drug overdose deaths, with 14 cases still pending. Thirty-three were caused by anti-depressants, followed by heroin at 27. Oxycodone, a painkiller, was blamed for 20 deaths.

“We thought this was an important way to minimize the availability of prescription drugs for people who may abuse them and take their own lives,” Peck said. “This makes it almost continuously available. There's a prescription drop-off box continuously available to citizens.”

What's accepted for disposal

The boxes will accept prescription medications, patches and ointments; over-the-counter medications; vitamins; samples; and pet medications.

Not accepted are needles, inhalers, aerosol cans and thermometers.

In Westmoreland County, Peck said a detective from his office will collect drugs from the boxes as needed. They will be documented before destruction by incineration.

Arnold police Chief Willie Weber said he hopes to have his department's MedReturn box set up by the first of the year.

“I think it's a smart move,” Weber said.

Weber said the service could be of particular help to families who, after the death of a loved one, find themselves stuck with a variety of prescription drugs. Those who deposit drugs in the box will not be questioned about them, he said.

“The idea is to get them off the streets,” he said.

Washington Township police Chief Scott Slagle said he expects his drop box to be set up sometime after the holidays.

With an older population, Slagle said his department has been called a number of times to take medications found by family members cleaning out a home after a death.

“I just figured that's a good thing to have here for the residents, and it's a short drive for them,” he said.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or brittmeyer@tribweb.com.

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