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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Wallingford Police Chief: No need for drug drop-off

As published in the Record Journal on Thursday March 14, 2013

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD – Residents should take personal responsibility and dispose of unwanted medication on their own, said Police Chief Douglas Dortenzio, who opposes a medication drop box at the police station.

While Dortenzio said he is “not opposed to the concept of disposing of drugs” for safety reasons, he said “the general public has been disposing of personal medications for decades without the assistance of law enforcement.”

The safest way to dispose of medication is to put it out with the trash, he said. “I can’t be a substitute for responsible citizens.”

Dortenzio was responding to a request from the Coalition for a Better Wallingford, which continues to push for a medication drop box at police headquarters.

A founding member of the group, Ken Welch, presented his case for the medication drop box before the Town Council on Tuesday night. Following Welch’s presentation, Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said he would defer to Dortenzio on the question of installing and operating a drop box at the police station.

“The most common method that’s available to everyone is to dispose them in the garbage,” Dickinson said.

Welch said “there’s no good reason” to oppose a medication drop box at the department. He said the push for a drop box was part of the coalition’s work to stem the tide of drug use and overdose deaths in Wallingford. Welch said the Police Department considered a medication drop box months ago, but he “was told it was undoable” because of stringent requirements by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which oversees all medication drop box programs in the nation. At the time, Welch said the DEA required every pill in a drop box to be inventoried, which he agreed would be a tedious and wasteful task. Those requirements have been lifted, Welch said, and now the Police Department must only report the total pounds collected annually.

But Dortenzio said Wednesday that current requirements are impractical.

“The conditions of doing these drug boxes are more cumbersome than what we do on a daily basis,” Dortenzio said, explaining that when drugs are seized by law enforcement, they are easier to process.

To legally have a medication drop box, Dortenzio said, two officers must have independent keys to open the box. Every time the box is opened, he said, medication must be logged and weighed, and a case report must be filed. That doesn’t happen with other drug seizures, Dortenzio said.

Dortenzio also argued that the Police Department lobby is not suitable for a medication drop box because of its small size. Placing the box in the lobby would create handicapped- accessibility issues, he said. Dortenzio said parking is limited as well, which would make it difficult for people to stop by and drop off medication. Dortenzio said the medication drop box can’t go anywhere besides the lobby because at least one police officer must be able to see the box throughout the day.

“It’s got to be an efficient and effective means,” Dortenzio said, adding that the debate alone had been helpful in spreading the word to rid households of unnecessary medication.

Welch said the coalition can have the box paid for through a grant, and Covanta Energy has agreed to burn the medication free of charge. He said that labor expenses are the only issue the Police Department would have to deal with,and those expenses are “worth it.”

He said 27 towns in the state have already adopted medication drop boxes, including Cheshire and Southington.

Major pharmacies in town, such as Stop & Shop, Rite Aid and CVS on North Colony Road, and Walgreens on South Colony Road, do not have any drug take-back programs.

Since December, Welch said, the Southington Police Department has collected 400 pounds of unwanted medication. Southington Police Sgt. Mike Baribault said that department’s drop box is emptied monthly. Every time it’s emptied, he said, a police report is filed and the medication is stored in the evidence room until it is destroyed.

Dortenzio said that, whether medication is discarded in residential trash or in a drop box, it’s all burned at the same location, so there’s no point in a medication drop box.

Town councilors were more receptive to the idea, however. On Wednesday, Town Councilor Tom Laffin said that discarding medication in the trash isn’t the answer because people desperate to abuse medications can easily rummage through the trash and salvage what was thrown out. But Dortenzio said that “if a parent has a suspicion that their children do that, it’s incumbent on the parents to dispose of the medication when their children aren’t watching.” Laffin, along with a majority of the Town Council, showed support for the drop box on Tuesday night. The subject was tabled so that the council could obtain more information on the process.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Laffin said Wednesday. “I know there’s some work to do and logistics to go over.”

Town Councilor Rosemary Rascati said Wednesday that she also supports the plan, but wants more information because “I don’t know exactly what it entails.”

“My initial reaction is that it’s a great idea,” she said.

While Town Councilor Vincent Cervoni said Wednesday that he is “generally supportive” of the drop box, “I just have to figure out how to make it happen.”

“I don’t know that I’m sold (on) the idea totally at this point,” said Town Councilor Craig Fishbein, who cited accessibility issues and DEA requirements as potential roadblocks.

Town Attorney Gerald Farrell Sr. said the council doesn’t have the authority to get the drop box installed. He said he couldn’t comment on whether the mayor could instruct the police chief to install the box because it is a hypothetical question. Dickinson said that theoretically he is the public safety director for the town and could direct the Police Department, but a medication drop box is “not the prime mission of the department.”

Dortenzio “is the person who knows best what needs to be done on a daily basis in order to accomplish any given task,” Dickinson said, adding that he understands the chief’s concerns.

While Dortenzio is against a medication drop box at the Police Department, he said the department takes part in a drug take-back program administered by the DEA twice a year. The next event is April 27, when he said a circular path is created at the driveway of the police station so residents can drive through and conveniently “just hand it off.”

Welch said he would continue to fight for the drop box. “We’ve dealt with each of the chief’s objections,” he said. “I would like to believe they’re putting a healthy effort into putting in a drug box ... It’s painful that you have to waste time on these arguments.”