Unused pills? Take ’em back

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KSP collecting prescription medicine Saturday

By Sarah Bennett

Kentucky State Police Post 4 in Elizabethtown will collect unused/unwanted prescription medication Saturday as part of National Take Back Day, an effort to remove potentially dangerous controlled substances from homes.

Area law enforcement officials say prescription medications are some of the most widely abused drugs in the county in addition to methamphetamine and marijuana.

“It makes up for the majority of our drug problem as far as abuse,” said Norman Chaffins, KSP Post 4 public affairs officer.

“If a trooper’s been on for more than five years, they’ve worked a prescription drug case,” he said.

Many prescription medications are highly addictive, Chaffins said, and everybody has them.

Prescription drug abuse often stems from something the abuser initially needed for medical treatment, he said. For example, Chaffins offers the scenario of someone who is given a prescription after wisdom teeth removal.

“They didn’t use them, but they’re there so they sell them to other people,” he said.

Selling prescription medicine or giving it to someone else is considered a violation of the trafficking in controlled substance statute, Chaffins said.

“It doesn’t have to be a sale,” he said. “When I give my prescription to someone else, that’s trafficking.”

Furthermore, officials add prescription drug abuse doesn’t discriminate, affecting people of all ages and backgrounds.

“It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from,” said Ron Eckart, director of the Greater Hardin County Narcotics Task Force. “Low class, middle class, it doesn’t matter.”

Chaffins said he’s seen “all walks of life” abuse prescription medication, including doctors.

According to the 2009 Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics in the Commonwealth, a total of 155,910 controlled substance prescriptions were dispensed in the county that year.

For a population of 99,770 in 2009, that’s a rate of 1,562.7 prescriptions per 1,000 people, according to the sourcebook.

That same year, the total number of drug-related arrests in the county was 1,397, according to statistics.

Eckart estimates the most commonly abused prescription drugs in the county are oxycodone, hydrocodone and Opana, a powerful variant of oxycontin that has grown in popularity in recent years.

According to the 2009 sourcebook, 44,862 hydrocodone prescriptions were dispensed in 2009 in Hardin County, a rate of 449.7 prescriptions per 1,000 people.

The number of oxycodone prescriptions dispensed that same year was 13,139.

In addition to their wide availability and propensity for addiction, what makes prescription drugs especially dangerous is they’re not illegal and serve a medical purpose, leading people to believe prescription drugs are “safer,” Chaffins said.

That’s not the case.

An addiction to prescription medication is an opiate addiction, Eckart said. Most opiates contain acetaminophen, a common pain reliever that can cause liver damage when overused.

Furthermore, prescription drug users have a tendency to overdose, he said.

According to the 2009 sourcebook, 530 people overdosed on prescription drugs in 2009 in Kentucky.

Of those, 490 were accidental deaths, 19 undetermined, 17 suicides and four were complications from chronic use.

The sourcebook lists alprazolam (Xanax), oxycodone and methadone as the most frequently detected drugs in overdose victims.

Since 2009, KSP has collected nearly 700 pounds of prescription medication on National Take Back Day. Statewide, Kentucky has collected 7,778 pounds of prescription drugs, according to a KSP news release.

Seven-hundred pounds may not seem like a lot, Chaffins said, but that’s 700 pounds of drugs being destroyed rather than abused.

Even if the drugs are sitting unused in a medicine cabinet, anyone who comes into a home can find them and take them, whether it be an exterminator, cleaning personnel or a teenager, he said.

Collection is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at KSP Post 4 in Elizabethtown.

Medication can be disposed of in its original container or by dumping it directly into a disposal box. However, liquid products must remain sealed.

Intravenous solutions and illicit substances are not accepted, according to the release.

Sarah Bennett can be reached at (270) 505-1750 or sbennett@thenewsenterprise.com.