OVERLAND PARK – Ever since his father died four years ago, Craig Salvay said he had wondered how to responsibly dispose of the items in his dad’s medicine cabinet.
The Prairie Village resident solved the problem a few days ago with a stop in the Black & Veatch parking lot at 11401 Lamar Ave. Through his van window he handed a bag full of prescription drugs to John Lacy, a senior officer with the Overland Park Police Department.
“I’m thrilled that somebody is doing this,” said Salvay. “I felt ill at ease about just flushing them down the drain.”
The Black & Veatch location was one of several around the metropolitan area where unused prescription drugs were collected as part of Saturday’s National Take-Back Initiative, a program run by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The agency incinerates the drugs it collects.
Local officials said removing unused prescription drugs from the community protects the water supply, since residents often discard the pills by flushing them down the toilet.
Culling the excess pharmaceuticals also diminishes the possibility of accidental poisoning or drug abuse, authorities said.
“We want to help dispose of the drugs so they don’t get into the wrong hands and don’t go into the ecosystem,” said Donie Hoffman, a detective with the Kansas City Police Department.
She manned a collection site set up as part of a community health fair at Research Medical Center, 2316 E. Meyer Blvd. in Kansas City, Mo.
The DEA has held two take-back events a year since initiating the program in 2010.
According to the agency, the program nationwide has removed more than 2 million pounds of unused prescription drugs from circulation.
The agency’s St. Louis divisional office compiles data from a six-state region. Collections from the five dates prior to Saturday’s event, netted about 94,000 pounds, according to the agency.
Data from the St. Louis office also showed that Johnson and Wyandotte counties collected about 4,400 pounds on Saturday, more than double the amount collected at last fall’s event.
The St. Louis officials had yet to receive all the data from the Missouri side of the metropolitan area earlier this week, though Jackson County reported a roughly 26 percent increase over fall from past weekend’s event.
The latest DEA event coincided with the one-year anniversary of the rollout of the Kansas Medication Disposal Program, administered by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the state pharmacy board.
The program allows pharmacies and county hazardous waste facilities to take back unused medications, though unlike the federal program, Kansas does not accept seriously addictive drugs such as painkillers.
There are approximately 70 drop-off points around Kansas, said Jessica Willard, who manages the program. She said officials would like to at least double the number of participating sites within the coming year.
Commonly returned drugs include antibiotics, cold medications and blood-pressure pills, Willard said.
Since 2000, according to KDHE, Kansas has seen an increase of 125 percent in the hospital discharge rate for unintentional drug poisoning.
Between 2007 and 2009, Kansas children ages 4 years and younger had the highest emergency department visit rate for unintentional drug poisonings among all age groups (1,416 of 4,395 visits).
Law enforcement officials working the DEA event said that ridding homes of narcotics such as OxyContin, a painkiller, and Xanax, an antidepressant, was especially important in curbing drug abuse among teens.
“We know most drug addictions start inside the home medicine cabinet,” said James Schriever, a master patrol officer with the Kansas City Police Department. He was working a midtown collection point.
Some of the drugs have a street value of as much as $30 per pill, police said.
Overland Park saw a spike in teen overdoses six or seven years ago, said Sgt. Eric Houston of the Overland Park Police Department. The problem has diminished since then but persists, he said.
Officers working the collection points recalled drop-offs at earlier events from relatives of deceased physicians, including one woman who brought 1950s era medicines in glass bottles with typewritten labels.
Schriever said he once talked with a woman who brought an old amputee kit that included a bone saw.
“We told her to take it to a museum,” he said.