After more than 100 people visited the emergency room for accidentally overdosing on prescription medication in 2012, Orange County health officials are looking to curb prescription drug abuse by offering people a free and easy way to dispose of medications they no longer use.
On Thursday, residents can take their old or expired medications to Carrboro Town Commons to ensure they’re disposed of properly.The Carrboro Police Department, in cooperation with the UNC Department of Public Safety, the Chapel Hill Police Department, Orange County Safe Kids, UNC Hospitals Police Department, Carolina Association of Pharmacy Students and the Orange Water and Sewer Authority, are hosting a Drug Take Back event from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Sgt. Billy Austin of the Carrboro Police Department said that in the three years the department has sponsored this event, they have received a range of medications.
“We see all kinds of medications at these events, from over-the-counter creams and fluids to controlled opioids,” Austin said.
Austin said he’s relieved to see these medications coming out of people’s medicine cabinets.
“We don’t have to worry about friends and family members getting hold of medications that aren’t prescribed to them,” he said.
Rob Crawford, co-chair for a Carolina Association of Pharmacy Students program that informs the public about prescription drug abuse, said one of the main functions of events like this is to combat misinformation about prescription drug abuse.
“Even if you take medicine that’s just expired, or that’s not yours, that’s abuse,” Crawford said.
Stacy Shelp, spokeswoman for the Orange County Health Department, said there is widespread inaccuracies about what actions constitute drug abuse, which contributes to the national problem of prescription drug abuse.
Over the last three years, an average of seven of the 10 poisoning deaths a year in Orange County were from prescription opioids. This is an increase from the average of three and a half to six out of 10 poisoning deaths a year a decade ago.
“It’s not always an intended thing. Kids get into medicine cabinets,” Shelp said.
In 2012, Orange County had more than 130 emergency department visits related to unintentional overdose, Shelp said. In 2011, there were more than 50 hospitalizations for unintentional overdose.
Austin said events like these help lower poisoning incidents by getting old medications out of reach.
“The supply of excess medications is dwindling due to these events," he said. "It’s harder for people to get these medications.”
Austin said improperly disposing of medications has adverse effects on the environment because it contributes to soil and water pollution.
“It addresses our need in the community to keep the soil and water supply safe,” he said. “Protecting the soil and the water, and protecting people from misusing these medications are the main reasons we hold events like this.”
Shelp said residents who cannot attend the event can still dispose of their old medication at the police station.
“The Carrboro and Chapel Hill police offices and the Health Department offices all have 24/7 drop boxes, where anyone can return any old medication, no questions asked,” she said.
For students on campus who wish to dispose of old pills, Campus Health Services provides a similar service.
“At any time, any student can bring their unused medications to our pharmacy.” said Amy Sauls, Director of Pharmacy at Campus Health Services.
Sauls said people can pull the labels off their medication bottles to protect personal information.
“We don’t need any information about you or the medication in order to dispose of it properly," she said.
Sauls said both events and the drop boxes contribute to the overall safety of the community, so it’s important for the whole community to participate.
“If you’re not using the medication, the safest thing you can do is bring it back," she said.
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