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Sunday, March 17, 2013

A town-wide health issue – an editorial by Eric Cotton of the Record Journal

As published in the Record Journal on Sunday March 17, 2013

Reach Eric Cotton at or (203) 317-2344. Follow him on Twitter @ecotton3

Wallingford Police Chief Douglas Dortenzio last week recommended that people dispose of unwanted medication by simply throwing the drugs in the trash as opposed to the town creating a secure drop-off box in the police department lobby — even though similar drop-off boxes have been successful and uncontroversial in other communities.

While the town runs two drug take-back events per year, it’s just a bad idea for residents to leave items like powerful narcotic painkillers around the house until then — and it can be just as dangerous to throw them in the trash.

In fact, the Food and Drug Administration recommends AGAINST throwing many narcotic painkillers in the trash under ANY circumstances, even though the state Department of Consumer Protection website says it’s OK with proper precautions.

The FDA provides a list of painkillers that it says should never be disposed of in the trash, including Oxycontin, Oxycodone, Demerol, Percocet and morphine — the kind of opiate painkillers responsible for many overdose deaths.

In the absence of a community drug take-back option, FDA officials agree with the state DCP that other unwanted drugs may be thrown in the trash, as long as they’re mixed with undesirable substances like kitty litter or coffee grounds and placed in a sealed bag.

But “drugs such as powerful narcotic pain relievers and other controlled substances carry instructions for flushing to reduce the danger of unintentional use or overdose and illegal abuse,” according to the FDA website, which explains that the risk of accidental exposure or abuse outweighs environmental concerns if there’s no take-back option available. “For example, the fentanyl patch, an adhesive patch that delivers a potent pain medicine through the skin, comes with instructions to flush used or leftover patches. Too much fentanyl can cause severe breathing problems and lead to death in babies, children, pets, and even adults, especially those who have not been prescribed the drug.”

The FDA website quotes Capt. Jim Hunter, senior program manager on the administration’s Controlled Substance Staff: “Even after a patch is used, a lot of the drug remains in the patch so you wouldn’t want to throw something in the trash that contains a powerful and potentially dangerous narcotic that could harm others.“ Flushing isn’t a great alternative from an environmental standpoint, so why not create a secure drop box? Dortenzio says it would be too onerous for his staff, but Southington police say it only takes about 15 minutes a week to clean out the box they installed in December. That includes weighing the medication and filling out a brief form.

Dortenzio also claims that safely disposing of medication is a matter of personal responsibility and not the town’s concern, which is frankly insulting. If the state and federal governments can’t agree on a proper procedure, what’s the average resident supposed to do?

Federal rules say that, if a city or town opts to have a drop box, it has to be in the police department. But it’s not enough for Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. to simply defer to his police chief as if this were a minor matter of department administration. It’s really a town-wide public health issue and thus it’s appropriate for the mayor to overrule the chief.

Will the drop box solve the problem of local drug abuse? Of course not, but it’s a step in the right direction and an important resource for residents.