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Murrysville, Delmont, Penn police receive drug drop-off boxes

| Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Several local police departments now offer an immediate alternative to flushing away prescription drugs.

Murrysville, Delmont and Penn Township police received prescription drug drop-off boxes last month through a statewide program locally administered by Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck's office.

“You see every day the issues concerning addiction, and many times, leftover prescription pills are the first access to pills that those suffering from addiction have,” Penn Township police Chief John Otto said. “We all know the ease of obtaining painkillers in today's day and age where the need for pain relief needs to be instant and 100 percent.”

The boxes enable residents to dispose of unused medications — everything except needles and syringes — no questions asked, Murrysville police Chief Tom Seefeld said. A total of 21 Westmoreland County police departments received the boxes, including Murrysville, Delmont, Penn Township and Irwin — the most in the state.

Peck said he offered the boxes to help combat the number of prescription drug overdoses in the county.

“Our coroner has alerted us to a large number of drug overdose deaths, with the majority due to prescription-drug overdoses,” Peck said. “There continues to be widespread concern with prescription drugs. We see the abuse very commonly, as young as eighth grade.”

Since 2010, local departments have participated in drug drop-off days administered by Westmoreland Cleanways. Executive director Ellen Keefe said the program had helped raise awareness that there are safe ways to get rid of unneeded medications.

“This is a really good idea,” Keefe said. Permanent drop-off sites are going to go a whole lot further in providing people with a reasonable and convenient way to dispose of the medications on a regular basis.”

It's important that residents not flush the pills, Delmont police Chief T.J. Klobucar said.

Keefe agreed.

“There are reports that show that medications are starting to show up in water and aquatic life, ending up with three-legged frogs and two-headed fish,” Keefe said. “Our concern was that these chemicals are getting into the waterways.”

It's a force of habit, Keefe said. Even the federal Environmental Protection Agency traditionally recommends flushing unused medication down a toilet rather than throwing it away.

“What we've seen at the drug take-back events is quite a lot of prescriptions and medications deposited,” Seefeld said.

In the three weeks since Murrysville installed its box in the police lobby, there has been a lot of use, he said. The program is anonymous, which is important, he said.

“We don't monitor who puts in what at the station,” Seefeld said. “Walk in, deposit and leave — it's OK to do it. We just want to help residents clear out old meds.”

In addition to protecting the environment, the program helps keep narcotics from getting into the hands of addicts. Many people who are prescribed a pain medication keep the extra pills “just in case” they need them again, Otto said.

Others don't know what to do with the pills, police said. With a permanent drop-off site, people have an easy way to dispose of the medicines.

“The most important thing we can do is make access to these pills difficult,” Otto said. “It should be more difficult to obtain these powerful painkillers than going to Mom and Dad's medicine cabinet or a friend's mom and dad's medicine cabinet and closing the bathroom door behind you.”

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or dkurutz@tribweb.com.

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