At a time of year when thoughts turn to spring cleaning, public safety officials hope local residents will rid medicine cabinets of dangerous unused, expired or unwanted prescription drugs.
Operation Medicine Drop, scheduled Tuesday, offers an opportunity to safely dispose of those substances and prevent accidental poisonings, abuse and theft associated with them. The take-back program will be held from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. in Walmart’s upper parking lot.
Organizers of the Mount Airy event now in its fourth year are expecting thousands of pills to be received, if the present trend continues. About 22,000 resulted from the first Operation Medicine Drop in 2010, which grew to more than 26,000 in 2011.
Last year, the haul was 33,262 — which observers found surprising for the single-afternoon event in view of the fact that a full-time drop-box for pills had been established at the Mount Airy Police Department about two months before.
The volume of these substances in the community, both what has been turned in and the suggestion that there is much more still out there, continues to be a source of marvel.
“It’s amazing — I would never have thought the numbers would have been as high as they are,” Mount Airy Police Lt. Kelly Hiatt said Thursday.
As for Tuesday’s Operation Medicine Drop, “I don’t know what to expect,” said Hiatt, who is part of the department’s Community Services Division that helps educate citizens about prescription drug dangers.
Procedure Is Easy
The Operation Medicine Drop service is free to the public and anonymous, with no questions asked.
Hiatt stressed that sharps (such as needles) and liquids will not be accepted.
In addition to Mount Airy police, Operation Medicine Drop involves the Mount Airy Fire Department and the Surry County Emergency Medical Service.
Personnel from those agencies will process the drugs that dropped off, which includes counting them, recording their type and bagging them for disposal. Thousands of pills of every size, shape and color usually result.
Operation Medicine Drop is part of a larger effort that involves a countywide coalition of law enforcement, educational, public health and other representatives battling the overdose problem through a program known as Project Lazarus.
“We’re making headway,” Hiatt said of the situation overall. “If you consider the deaths, the deaths are way down.”
The collecting of unwanted medication is a big part of that, said Hiatt. He mentioned that separate from the success of the annual Operation Medicine Drop, more than 208,000 pills have been logged at the 24-hour receptacle in the police station lobby since its launching in January 2012.
“This is taking potentially deadly stuff off the streets,” Hiatt said.
Since 2010, 30 million-plus dosage units of medication have been collected during take-back events at more than 1,000 sites statewide.
Along with preventing painkillers and other substances from reaching the wrong hands, possibly leading to abuse or an overdose death, Operation Medicine Drop protects an important natural resource.
“Every time we collect and destroy a dosage of excess medication, it’s a success. We’re keeping these drugs out of the wrong hands and out of our waterways,” North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin said in a statement.
“I commend the Mount Airy Police Department, the Mount Airy Fire Department and the Surry County EMS for actively engaging their community in this very important initiative and I thank the public for taking responsibility to dispose of medications in a safe, secure way.”
Operation Medicine Drop is coordinated by the N.C. Department of Insurance, Safe Kids North Carolina, the State Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Riverkeepers of North Carolina, with that group of stakeholders reflecting the varied concerns involved.
In addition to combating substance abuse and protecting water supplies, the campaign addresses concerns about unintentional poisoning deaths, which are on the rise in the state. Operation Medicine Drop provides a reminder to parents and caregivers about the need to:
• Keep medicines locked up and out of reach of children;
• Always read labels, obey directions and give medicines to children based on their weights and ages, and use only the dispensers packaged with children’s medications;
• Avoid taking medicine or vitamins in front of kids, and do not call them candy.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.