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Drug take-back van, box keep leftover prescriptions off the streets

Written by Clayton Over/The Times-Tribune | Jul 22, 2018 7:00 AM
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Newsrooms across the commonwealth have spent years documenting the opioid crisis in their own communities. But now, in the special project State of Emergency: Searching for Solutions to Pennsylvania's Opioids Crisis, we are marshalling resources to spotlight what Pennsylvanians are doing to try to reverse the soaring number of overdose deaths.

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A drug take-back box greets visitors inside the Susquehanna County Courthouse in Montrose. (Clayton Over/The Times-Tribune)


(Montrose) --  The instructions on the white box are direct: "Pull. Drop the drugs."

The medication drugs drop box, similar to a mailbox, greets those who enter the Susquehanna County Courthouse. It is part of the rural county's drug take-back initiative to make it easier for residents to dispose of their unused, unwanted or expired prescription medications.

Getting leftover prescriptions off the street is important because unused medications, including opioid painkillers, can fuel or begin a drug habit, said Susquehanna County Sheriff Lance Benedict.

The county has another medication drugs drop box set up at the Forest City municipal building but is not yet in service, Benedict said.

From 2010 through 2017, 56 people died from drug overdoses in Susquehanna County, according to figures on Overdose Free PA, a website that tracks overdose deaths submitted by county coroner's offices and offers other information about the opioid epidemic.

The number likely will grow as 2017 figures become finalized.

Susquehanna County officials and law enforcement agencies have participated in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day events since 2011, with the exception of 2015, when the DEA suspended the program, Benedict said.

The most recent National Drug Take-Back Day, in October, collected about 912,000 pounds, or 456 tons, of unwanted medications nationwide, according to the DEA.

The late Susquehanna County District Attorney Robert Klein took the initiative a step further in 2016. He transformed a red van into a drug take-back vehicle to travel the county and set up at various community events so it is more convenient for residents to dispose of their medications. Event organizers could request the van.

The results were dramatic. County officials gathered 446 pounds of medication by using the box and van in 2016. Before that, the most they ever collected was 271 pounds of prescription drugs, back in 2012, during a Prescription Drugs Take-Back Day event.

However, using the van is costly because it requires two armed deputies, on overtime, to ride along, Benedict said.

For now, county officials are relying on the stationary boxes, and hold prescription drug take-back events in municipalities throughout the year. "I think permanent boxes in the county is going to be the answer," Benedict said.

Susquehanna County also established an online form where people can submit anonymous tips about drug activity. A link to the form is on the county's website, http://susqco.com.

The county's take-back van inspired another Northeast Pennsylvania community to mirror the initiative.

Klein, who died in late December, helped get a similar van for the Hazleton-area in Luzerne County on the road, said Brenner Recycling Inc. President Paul Brenner, who organized the program.

Hazleton's van started making rounds earlier this year and 91 pounds of prescription drugs have been collected so far.

"It's just another tool in the tool box to get the drugs out of the medicine cabinets," Brenner said.

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