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Pittsburgh region joins National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day

Natasha Lindstrom
| Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016, 5:42 p.m.
Ron Weingrad, 71, of Pittsburgh's Point Breeze neighborhood drops off his unused prescription drugs as part of national Drug Take Back Day, at Pittsburgh's Zone 4 Police Station in Squirrel Hill on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Ron Weingrad, 71, of Pittsburgh's Point Breeze neighborhood drops off his unused prescription drugs as part of national Drug Take Back Day, at Pittsburgh's Zone 4 Police Station in Squirrel Hill on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016.

Ron Weingrad was happy to gather up the medicine bottles he no longer needed or whose contents had expired, stuff them into a Giant Eagle plastic bag and drop them off at the Pittsburgh police station in Squirrel Hill on Saturday morning.

The 71-year-old man from Point Breeze doesn't want his old meds polluting local water streams or getting into the wrong hands, in line with the tens of thousands of people across the country who participated in National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.

Law enforcement, state and federal agencies, nonprofits, pharmacies, medical schools, hospitals and health systems such as UPMC joined forces across Western Pennsylvania for the program — part of a broader effort to address a public health crisis of prescription drug abuse and opioid addiction.

An estimated 60 percent of people who abuse prescription medication obtained it from a relative or a friend, according to data by the American College of Preventive Medicine in Washington.

“We're quite supportive of prescription drug take-back events, and in fact ran several before the issue of opioids became a headline,” said Chuck Moran, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Medical Society in Harrisburg, the state's largest doctors advocacy group. “These events are important to help address today's problems we face.”

Between its two locations in McCandless and South Park, the Allegheny County Police Department on Saturday accepted more than 155 pounds of medication from about 175 people, according to county police Superintendent Coleman McDonough.

“The event increases in use each year, with this one being no exception,” McDonough said.

Public Safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler said people dropped off 24 boxes drugs with a weight of 457 pounds at Pittsburgh's police stations.

There were 3,383 fatal drug overdoses in Pennsylvania in 2015 — 81 percent of which are believed to have been caused by heroin or opioid abuse, state and federal officials say.

Between 2012 and 2015, 377 people died of overdoses in Westmoreland County and 1,297 died in Allegheny, according to coroner statistics. This year, 64 fatal overdoses have been confirmed in Westmoreland and 66 in Allegheny.

Numbers for 2016 indicate overdose deaths will surpass last year's total, Gov. Tom Wolf told the Tribune-Review last week.

Among other ongoing attempts to curb the opioid epidemic:

• A prescription drug monitoring program began this month that enables doctors and pharmacists to use an electronic database to flag so-called “doctor-shoppers.”

• The state Department of Health provided 128 public high schools in Pennsylvania with free Narcan, a nasal spray that within minutes can reverse effects of an opioid or heroin overdose.

• Wolf is advocating for several new laws, including barring emergency rooms from prescribing more than a week's worth of opioid painkillers and prohibiting all doctors from prescribing more than seven days' worth at a time for minors.

The drug take-back event is held twice annually.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514 or nlindstrom@tribweb.com.

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