Northwestern District Attorney’s office hosts National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day

By Brendan Deady

Deputy Tom Cote of the Hampshire County Sheriff’s Department stood in front of Amherst’s Wildwood Elementary School on Saturday morning with a zip lock bag full of drugs. He wore a smile as he placed the collection of rainbow capsules into a cardboard box. Later that day the pills would be incinerated.

Saturday marked the ninth National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, an initiative aimed at raising awareness about the importance of getting unwanted prescription drugs out of medicine cabinets, according to Mary Carey, the communications director for the Northwestern District Attorney’s office. The event, which is sponsored nationally by the Drug Enforcement Administration, was organized in collaboration with local police forces.

Residents were welcomed from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. to anonymously dispose of unwanted and expired prescription medications at 16 locations throughout Franklin and Hampshire counties as well as in the town of Athol. Pet medications and vitamins were also accepted, but not needles, syringes or any forms of liquid medications.

Unwanted prescription medications can also be disposed of at any time at one of the permanent Drug-Take-Back boxes located across 17 police stations throughout Hampshire and Franklin counties.

Since the event was organized four years ago, National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day locations and the permanent drop-boxes have received nearly 17,000 pounds of unwanted prescription medicines, according to Carey.

“The main focus is to limit the potential for drug abuse that unattended medications allow,” Cote said. “But collecting the pills also helps the environment. People used to just flush their meds down the toilet and they’d make their way into our drinking water. This is an important program.”

All prescription medication received during the event is packaged, sealed and picked up by affiliates from the state DEA office. They’re then transported to Covanta Resource Recovery Facility in Agawam to be incinerated in an environmentally sound way, according to Cotes.

Removing unwanted prescription medications from homes is all the more pertinent due to the rising levels of opioid abuse and prescription drug overdoses in Massachusetts.

This past March, Gov. Deval Patrick declared the growing abuse of opioids a public health emergency. Opiate overdoses in Massachusetts rose 90 percent from 2000 to 2012, Patrick told The Boston Globe.

These efforts assist in reducing the potential for drug abuse, unintended overdoses and eventual regression towards harder street drugs, Carey said.

Depressants, opioids and antidepressants are responsible for more overdose deaths than methamphetamine, cocaine and LSD combined, according to

“Kids will start by taking parent’s pain medications and get hooked,” Carey said.

According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 70 percent of people 12 years and older who abuse prescription drugs get them from family and friends.

“Opiate based drugs are so powerfully addictive but a prescription drug addiction is expensive to maintain,” Carey said. “So we’ve seen a dangerous trend where kids will turn to heroin to get the highs previously obtained from pills because it’s so much cheaper. Our offices have seen a noticeable increase in the amount of heroin-related cases in the recent years.”

Said Cotes: “It’s something you don’t really think about until you’ve experienced it firsthand. It’s scary to think that Grandma’s medicine cabinet can become some kid’s drug dealer.”

The Northwestern DA’s office is optimistic about the surrounding communities’ cooperation in limiting the potential of drug abuse. But the struggle is an on-going battle, according to Carey.

“We can get these drugs out of circulation and help curb the epidemic of drug abuse that threatens our children and communities,” Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan said in a news release.

Arrangements are on-going for having a permanent drop-box available on the University of Massachusetts, according to Carey.

“We’re excited about the inclusion of UMass in our drop-box program,” Carey said. “It will take the entire community’s effort if we’re going to make an impact against drug abuse.”

Brendan Deady can be reached at [email protected]