State launches drug take-back initiative

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Washington County has received 17 new medicine return boxes as part of a statewide initiative to combat prescription drug abuse.


The MedReturn boxes provide a chance to safely and anonymously discard unused or expired prescription and over-the-counter medications.


Gov. Tom Corbett announced Monday the launch of the drug take-back program, which will provide as many as 250 MedReturn boxes across the state. The initiative is part of Corbett’s “Healthy Pennsylvania” plan and works in conjunction with national Drug Enforcement Agency take-back programs.


“(The initiative) is an important step in alleviating Pennsylvania’s public health and safety concerns regarding prescription drug abuse and misuse, especially among our youth who don’t have to look further than their own family’s medicine cabinet,” Corbett said in a news release.


Collection boxes have been placed at several police departments in Washington County, as well as security offices at local colleges. There are no MedReturn boxes in Greene County. Drugs are stored in police departments’ evidence rooms until the DEA empties the boxes twice each year. From there, the drugs are incinerated.


Peters Township police Chief Harry Fruecht said the DEA’s national take-back program has provided a great service to the community, and people “are so thankful” to have old prescriptions taken off their hands. He said his police department was using a mailbox converted into a prescription drop-off box, but it was replaced for free with the help of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators. That program is now closed, but local district attorney offices can apply for a portion of the new federal grant allotted for MedReturn boxes.


The DEA collected more than 1,200 pounds of medication in Washington County during the last take-back collection in October. Nationally, it weighed in at over 647,000 pounds.


“Think of the size of a pill. It’s unbelievable,” Fruecht said, adding that the high collection rate is not necessarily a good sign, and more could be done to tackle prescription abuse. “If we’re collecting that much, how much is out there that we’re not collecting?”


Pennsylvania has seen an increase in prescription drug abuse, especially among school-aged youth. One in five high school students has abused prescription drugs, according to a 2010 national survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


“Abuse of prescription drugs is a serious problem that can lead to addiction, overdose and death,” Gary Tennis, secretary of the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, said in a news release. “Safe and anonymous disposal of prescription drugs is an important way that state, law enforcement and individuals can all participate in a partnership focused on prevention.”


The MedReturn initiative resulted from a partnership among the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, which received a $100,000 federal grant for the boxes.


Drop-off boxes in Washington County are at the following police/security stations: Beallsville Borough, California Borough, California University, Canonsburg, Carroll Township, Charleroi Regional, Donegal, East Bethlehem, McDonald (Burgettstown station), Monongahela, North Franklin, North Strabane, Smith Township, South Strabane, Southwest Regional (Belle Vernon), West Brownsville and Washington & Jefferson College.


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