Prescription medications, if in the wrong hands, can be deadly.
Twice a year, law officials team up with local community health coalitions and organizations to take back unused prescription medications to help curb the abuse of controlled and dangerous substances.
Oklahoma leads the nation in abuse of prescription medications, and nationally, between 2000 and 2008, fatalities caused by commonly abused prescription drugs more than doubled among teenagers and young adults, while drug-related deaths among people aged 50 to 69 tripled.
Saturday’s drug take-back day was part of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s national take-back initiative held every Sept. 29. A site was set up in Tahlequah in the Walmart parking lot by the Tahlequah Bringing Everyone’s Strengths Together Coalition, while the Reaching Our Hulbert Community organization helped patrons dispose of unused prescription medications in the NEO Clinic parking lot.
“We do it twice a year in the spring and the fall in collaboration with the Tahlequah Police Department and the DEA,” said Tahlequah BEST Coalition Coordinator Val Dobbins. “[Tahlequah Police Department Public Information Officer] Brad Robertson serves on the [Tahlequah BEST Coalition]. He fulfills the law enforcement sector. He comes to the meetings and provides input on issues in the community. When we start strategizing and planning initiatives, he gives us feedback on what would work and what wouldn’t work. He’s really been very instrumental helping us with the coalition. We also target underage drinking, tobacco use and other drugs.”
A Tahlequah BEST survey revealed the need to control access to prescription medication, said Robertson.
“One of the things the coalition has identified as a problem in our community is prescription drugs,” he said. “This is just one of the many initiatives that the coalition has done. We do things throughout the year.”
For convenience, drop boxes for unused or old prescribed medications can be found on the first and second floors of the Cherokee County Courthouse, while a drop box will be installed in the Hulbert Police Department in the near future.
The weekend event was held to raise awareness of how to properly dispose of unused and old prescription medications, but also to remind people why it’s important to control access to controlled substances.
“Oklahoma teens are leading the nation in the abuse of painkillers, and that statistic is from the most recent national survey on drug use. Seventy percent of youth who abuse prescription drugs get them from friends or family,” said ROHC Prevention Specialist Shasta Teague. “It is not only Oklahoma teens who are abusing prescription drugs. According to the state medical examiner’s office, drug overdoses now kill more Oklahomans than motor vehicle accidents – an average of two per day. This event is part of the DEA’s nationwide take-back initiative designed to empower community members to be a part of the solution in the emerging trend of prescription drug abuse.”
At the Hulbert site, where members of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Hulbert PD were present, patrons were able to purchase medication lock-boxes for $15 to provide an option of controlled access to prescription medications kept in the home, Teague said.
“We got [the lock boxes] at wholesale,” she said. “They’re made out of steel, and they can be bolted to the wall.”
According to information on prescription drug use gathered by Tahlequah BEST, the most commonly abused prescription medications include OxyContin, hydrocodone, Xanax and Soma.
“We have such a high rate of drug overdose, and people think it’s heroin and cocaine, but it’s not. It’s OxyContin, Xanax, Lortab – those that are readily available,” said Dobbins. “We think it’s OK, because it’s a prescription and a doctor gives it to you. So people start out real innocently with their addictions. If a kid has a headache or an ache, a parent may be prone to give them hydrocodone for the pain. It’s a prescription, and it’s a legal thing. Then all of sudden you have an addiction.”
Tahlequah Registered Nurse Janet Bahr is familiar with the proper procedures of handling prescribed medications, and Saturday was her first opportunity to participate in a drug take-back day.
“I’ve been waiting for this for I don’t know how long. One of these prescriptions dates back to 1980,” she said. “You’re not suppose to flush them down the toilet, and the last time there was one of these [events] I wasn’t available. You don’t want to have prescriptions around to entice children or to entice people to break into your house.”
Three bins of old or unused prescription medications were filled on Saturday, said Tahlequah PD Chief Clay Mahaney.
“I appreciate the community’s participation in this event. Three boxes were gathered,” he said. “I enjoyed working with Tahlequah BEST in an effort to destroy these prescription drugs properly.”
According to the Daily Press poll on what patrons normally do with leftover prescription medication, 42 percent, or 97 voters, said they keep unused/old prescription medication around in case it is needed again, while 28 percent, or 63 voters, said they throw them away.
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