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Windfall of prescription drug turn-ins expected

| Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013, 11:56 p.m.

Federal drug agents arrive on Saturday to collect a bounty of unwanted prescription drugs. Peters police have already filled 10 boxes and expect they could double that amount this week.

“It's scary,” said police Chief Harry Fruecht. “There is so much of this stuff out there. You'd think at some point, it would start going down.”

It hasn't.

Since Peters police participated in the Drug Enforcement Agency's first National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day in 2010, they have continued to see people drop off record numbers of prescription drugs. At the last national collection day in April, Peters and five other law enforcement agencies around Washington County submitted 965 pounds of prescription drugs to the DEA.

The DEA collected 371 tons of prescription medications during that round from nearly 5,900 locations nationwide, manned by more than 4,300 law enforcement agencies.

The seventh national collection is Saturday. Donations are anonymous and what is dropped off is not catalogued, Fruecht said.

“I don't care what it is,” he said. “Just get it out of your medicine cabinet.”

Shortly after the first national collection, Fruecht had an old mailbox-style evidence collection box installed in his department's lobby. Recently, he replaced it with a prescription-drug drop-box supplied by the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators in Lutherville, Md.

“I looked around to find a way for residents to drop drugs off all the time,” Fruecht said. “People just don't know what to do with this stuff.”

District Attorney Gene Vittone recently used grant money to order drop-off boxes for 16 other police departments in Washington County.

“Peters Township has had tremendous success with their program,” Vittone said. “Drug abuse is a major problem, and it starts with what is inside medicine cabinets.”

A 2011 survey found that twice as many Americans regularly abused prescribed medicines as those who used cocaine, hallucinogens, heroin and inhalants combined. More than seven in 10 who abused prescription drugs said they got them through friends and family members.

Pennsylvania ranked 14th in the nation in its rate of drug overdose deaths, with 15.3 per 100,000 residents, a study this month from the Trust for America's Health found. Most of those deaths involved prescription drugs, and the rate spiked 89 percent since 1999, the study stated.

Though the FDA maintains that certain prescription drugs are safe to be flushed down the toilet, including fentanyl, oxycodone and other narcotic painkillers, Pennsylvania American Water urges people to participate in the national prescription drug collection and other take-back events.

“They prevent pharmaceutical products from being flushed down the toilet or thrown in the trash,” said Paul Zielinski, senior director of water quality and environmental compliance for the state's largest water utility. “Both of those options pose potential hazards to our environment.”

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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