Butler County collection boxes help curb prescription drug abuse

| Saturday, May 3, 2014, 5:50 p.m.

High school students are keeping track of when their friends are getting their wisdom teeth out because they're hoping to score some powerful painkillers to get high, the deputy secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs said last week.

“That's really startling when I heard that,” Cheryl Dondero said at a news conference at the Cranberry Municipal Center.

Butler County last year installed seven collection boxes across the county to keep unwanted and unused medications out of the hands of those who might abuse them. Through the first three months of this year, Butler County District Attorney Richard Goldinger said, people have disposed nearly 250 pounds of medications, a far greater amount than expected.

Goldinger said prescription drug abuse often is a gateway to heroin abuse, adding that Pennsylvania ranks third in the nation in the number of heroin abusers.

In January, 22 deaths were attributed to overdoses of heroin laced with fentanyl, including several in Butler County.

“If we don't dispose of our unused medications ... we're putting our children and our friends and family at risk,” Dondero said. She estimated that one-third of prescription drugs go unused.

A $100,000 federal grant is paying for about 250 collection boxes throughout the state in an effort guided by Pennsylvania district attorneys, the Staunton Farm Foundation, the drug and alcohol programs agency and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

Butler County's collection boxes are located at police stations in Cranberry, Butler, Butler Township, Slippery Rock, Saxonburg and Penn and in the lobby of the prison. People are welcome to pull labels off bottles or blacken out their names and addresses.

County detectives remove the drugs from the boxes for incineration at an undisclosed location.

Most prescription and over-the-counter medications are accepted. Needles, inhalers, aerosols, thermometers and medical wastes aren't.

Goldinger said he is not aware of anyone dropping illegal drugs into the boxes. He said detectives haven't catalogued the types of drugs.

As that effort continues, Goldinger said he is supporting a bill by state Sen. Pat Vance, R-Cumberland County, to start a statewide prescription drug database that could help identify drug abuse. The bill is awaiting Senate approval.

The database would allow law enforcement, with court permission, to check whether people are receiving prescriptions from multiple doctors, or whether a doctor is prescribing too much medication.

“The legislation would assist law enforcement in curtailing the prescription drug abuse problem we have in Pennsylvania, and would help curtail the heroin epidemic we're currently going through,” Goldinger said. “The legislation would effectively take the handcuffs off police combating the problem and put the handcuffs back onto criminals.”

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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