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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Drop-off boxes: at police stations or nowhere

As published in the Record Journal Sunday March 31, 2013

By Jesse Buchanan
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2230
Twitter: @JBuchananRJ

WALLINGFORD - The idea of a medication drop-off box at the police station has drawn opposition from town officials, but pharmacies are also reluctant to host the boxes even if they were allowed to under state and federal law.

Federal Drug Enforcement Administration rules don’t allow pharmacies to take back leftover medicine, according to Marghie Giuliano, executive vice president of the Connecticut Pharmacists Association.

The state Department of Consumer Protection requires that the boxes be located in the lobbies of police stations.

Wallingford Chief Douglas Dortenzio said he doesn’t want the Police Department to bear the cost of hosting a drop box, saying the department can’t be a substitute for responsible citizens. Republican Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. has supported Dortenzio’s position.

Supporters of the box have said the cost is minimal and an easy way to tackle the serious problem of prescription drug abuse.

A founding member of the Coalition for a Better Wallingford, Ken Welch, has advocated for the drop box as a way to counter prescription drug abuse. His partner’s daughter Taylor Short, 20, died in November of an apparent drug overdose.

Welch said he looked into having drop boxes at pharmacies but found it was illegal. He’d like to see it, though.

“I think the industry does bear some responsibility,” he said. “We’re flooding the market with this stuff and there’s no good way to retrieve it.”

Rules on drug returns are being examined, but Giuliano said pharmacies shouldn’t bear the cost of installing and monitoring drop boxes when they’re not entirely responsible for the medications.

“I don’t think it would be fair to put the burden on the pharmacies,” she said. “The pharmacies are selling them, but should it be the doctors? Should it be the pharmaceutical companies who are manufacturing them?

“The end user should be in some way responsible for disposing of medications properly,” Giuliano said.

State Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, said changing state and federal laws to allow drop boxes at pharmacies isn’t the easiest way to address the problem.

“Whether one group in Wallingford could change a federal law, I don’t know how feasible that is,” she said. “We have to do what’s possible.”

Thirty towns in the state have drop boxes at their police stations, Mushinsky said.

“It seems to be the easier way to go,” she said.

Town Councilor Jason Zandri, a Democrat running for mayor, pointed out the large quantity of prescription drugs collected at the Southington Police Department.

“If Southington in four months collected 400 pounds (of drugs), clearly someone’s using it,” Zandri said.

Volunteers have offered to install the box, and Zandri said police pay related to cataloging the drugs taken in could be donated.

“I’m sure we could fundraise it if this town is so broke,” he said.

Zandri wasn’t aware of any studies that quantify the effectiveness of medicine drop boxes, but said it was an inexpensive measure that could help.

“It probably would be hard to prove anyway,” he said.

Jerry Farrell Jr., a former state consumer protection commissioner, also didn’t know of any data on whether drop boxes have helped reduce prescription drug abuse. The department sponsors drug take-back days on which unused medicines are collected.

Conscientious citizens are likely already disposing of their drugs properly, while those most at risk likely wouldn’t use a drop box, he said.

The “moderately conscientious” would be the ones most likely to benefit from having somewhere to deposit unused medicines, Farrell said.

“I think it’s a good thing to have out there,” he said. “You want to offer people an opportunity to get rid of them.”

“As a culture we need to be doing more of this,” Farrell said.

According to the federal Food and Drug Administration, some drugs should be flushed down the toilet but only if it’s recommended on the drug’s label. If not, drugs can be mixed with something undesirable, like coffee grounds, and thrown away. Drugs can also be brought to drug take-back days, the FDA said.

At some pharmacies, drug envelopes can be picked up that allow customers to mail back unused drugs, according to Giuliano. Drugs containing controlled substances, such as Oxycontin, can’t be mailed back, however, and those drugs are the ones most often abused.

“Certainly we’re all concerned about the excess of medications in individuals’ homes and the potential for drug abuse,” Giuliano said.

She said the best place for drop boxes is in police stations where the boxes can be monitored and secured. Taking drugs back at pharmacies introduces the risk of mixing returned drugs with new drugs, she said.

“What seems like something simple can be very complex,” Giuliano said. “It would certainly be a real cost to provide this service for pharmacies.”

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