Narcotics officers aren’t always the most upbeat and cheerful people. They often deal with the worst side of humanity, people whose lives have been torn apart by drugs and addiction. But this officer had good reason to be excited on this particular day. “We did better than I would have expected,” said the veteran lawman, even grinning as he took a moment from stacking up and sorting the super-sized freezer bags full of prescription drugs, “especially considering the weather today.”
It was one of those damp, rainy days with an overcast grey sky that makes people want to stay indoors, but on this day the narcotics officer — whose name is withheld for obvious reasons — was thrilled to see people coming together to keep kids safe and keep massive amounts of prescription drugs off the streets.
Thousands of residents of Macon County had shown up at drop-off points across the area to turn over their old, unused medications to the authorities. The Macon County Sheriff’s Office joined law enforcement officers across North Carolina to spearhead the second annual Operation Medicine Drop on Saturday, March 26. Sheriff’s deputies and narcotics officers — in conjunction with the Franklin and Highlands Police Departments— spent the day collecting prescription drugs at convenient locations in Franklin and Highlands from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Drop-off sites included Wal-Mart and Kmart in Franklin, and Main Street Pharmacy, Highlands Pharmacy, Bryson’s Food Store and Market Fresh Grocery in Highlands.
“It was a lot wetter this year than it was last year,” laughed Franklin Police officer Steven Apel, but added that the public outpour far outweighed the pouring rain. “A lot of people came through and seemed to be real pleased and happy that we had a place to put all the medication that they’ve had in their house forever.”
At the end of the day, officers had collected 63,357 pills or doses in Macon County, a remarkable count considering the same agencies had conducted a similar initiative, called Operation Pill Crusher, only last year. 51,893 dosage units had been collected from Franklin, and 11,464 were dropped off in Highlands.
“I think it was a huge success,” said Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland. “It was a collaborative effort by the Macon County Sheriff’s Office, the Franklin Police Department and the Highlands Police Department, and it shows what we can accomplish when local law enforcement works together.”
Holland said that he supports the idea of being proactive to keep unused prescription drugs off the market or out of children’s hands. “That’s 63,000 pills that had the potential of making it onto the streets, that won’t be making it there,” said Holland, not without some pride. Nobody was arrested, nobody was hurt, and yet it will be less likely that a child will accidentally overdose in Macon County, and there will be fewer drugs on the street for some time. Everybody wins in this equation, except for the drug addict.
Local law enforcement agencies will then turn the drugs over to the NC State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), for safe disposal. The SBI will destroy the drugs using incinerators approved by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Unlike Operation Pill Crusher, Operation Medicine Drop is an annual program organized by Safe Kids North Carolina during National Poison Prevention Week, March 20-26. According to spokespeople for the program, every year in North Carolina, “some 200 children die from accidental injuries and another 45,000 visit a doctor’s office for treatment of such injuries. Safe Kids North Carolina works to prevent these injuries in children 14 and under through education and outreach.”
Safe Kids North Carolina is one of more than 450 coalitions affiliated with Safe Kids Worldwide, an organization that strives “to prevent accidental childhood injury, the leading killer of children age 14 and younger.” 58 counties in North Carolina are covered by 36 Safe Kids coalitions.
Operation Medicine Drop is an ongoing prescription drug take-back event in which the public may safely and legally dispose of expired or unused prescription medications. Local law enforcement agencies worked with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), SBI, NC Department of Insurance, Child Fatality Task Force and Poison Help to collect and dispose of potentially dangerous pills and capsules across the state.
Poisoning from prescription medications is on the rise in North Carolina with nearly 4,500 deaths since 1999. Operation Medicine Drop offers the public a free and convenient option to dispose of prescription medications to protect one’s children and the environment. It also keeps dangerous narcotics and other controlled substances from being stolen or otherwise diverted by drug dealers and distributed illegally.
More than 200 Operation Medicine Drop events were conducted across the state last week. Last year, more than 1 million doses of old prescription and over-the-counter drugs were collected at nearly 200 events held across the state. Among the drugs collected were controlled substances such as Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, and Fentanyl patches.
Fatal drug overdoses are now a leading cause of death due to unintentional injury in the U.S., second only to motor vehicle accidents. Prescription and over-the-counter medications cause more than three-fourths of all unintentional poisonings in North Carolina, according to the N.C. Division of Public Health.
Commonly abused prescription and over-thecounter drugs include painkillers, anti-anxiety drugs, stimulants, and cough and cold medicines. Prescription drugs are the second most abused drugs by teenagers, behind marijuana. Two-thirds of teens who misuse prescriptions get the drugs from their home or from a friend’s home, according to a 2009 survey by the National Center on Addiction and Drug Use at Columbia University.
Attorney General Roy Cooper encourages residents of North Carolina to be responsible and take advantage of the program. “Prescription drugs in the wrong hands can have deadly consequences,” Cooper warned. “I urge parents and caregivers to clean out your medicine cabinets and keep these drugs away from young people who may abuse them.”
More information about future collections for Operation Medicine Drop is available at www.ncdoj.gov.