Operation Medicine Cabinet returns May 4
Call it an easy pill to swallow.
It’s time again for Operation Medicine Cabinet, in which Watauga County citizens can drop off unused or outdated prescription medications, syringes or other medical equipment to area law enforcement and community partners — no questions asked.
The take-back takes place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 4, at four locations: the Foscoe Fire Department and the three Food Lion stores in Watauga (U.S. 321 in Blowing Rock, U.S. 421 in Deep Gap and Blowing Rock Road). Law enforcement officials stress, “It is an amnesty day, so no questions will be asked.”
Three and half years ago, on Oct. 3, 2009, a broad coalition of community partners came together to create the first ever prescription drug take-back day in the High Country. Since that first event, a total of seven Operation Medicine Cabinet events have been held every May and October as part of the Watauga County household hazardous waste day.
Organizers are judging the program’s success by the numbers. October 2009 saw 40,000 pills collected, May 2012 saw 188,000, October 2010 had 350,000, May 2011 saw 87,285, October 2011 saw 88,000, May 2012 had 153,778, and October 2012 gathered 95,731.
That adds up to 1,002,794 pills since 2009, making Watauga County, according to organizers, one of the best in the state. On a per capita basis, Watauga has repeatedly outperformed Raleigh, Charlotte and Asheville.
In 2010, the local Operation Medicine Cabinet was recognized as a model program and adopted by other community groups across North Carolina. In 2011, more than 40 drug take-back events were held across the state. The High Country group wants to continue leading the state by hosting another highly successful haul of prescription drugs.
According to event organizers, the disposal of prescription drugs has long been a dilemma, and many medicine cabinets contain unused or outdated medications. Among teenagers, the fastest growing illegal drug use is the abuse of prescription drugs. Law enforcement reports that the most common method of obtaining prescription drugs is by raiding the medicine cabinet of a friend or family, then consuming the pills or selling them.
“From a law enforcement perspective, one of our most important jobs is to work diligently and proactively to prevent drug abuse,” Watauga County Sheriff Len D. Hagaman said. “By hosting an amnesty day that allows the public to turn in any kind of unused or unwanted medications, hopefully, we will keep those drugs off the street and out of the hands of children.”
Another problem with outdated or unused prescription drugs is that people dispose of them improperly by flushing them down the toilet. If their home is connected to a local wastewater treatment facility, then the drugs wind up in either the Watauga River or New River, where they can negatively affect aquatic organisms. If the homes have septic tanks, the drugs leach into the soils and contaminate groundwater that can be taken up by well pumps.
“A recent investigation by the Associated Press found a whole host of pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics, pain medication, anti-depressants, sex hormones, heart and blood pressure medicine, in the drinking water of more than 40 million Americans,” said Donna Lisenby, Watauga Riverkeeper.
“It has been very rewarding to see how enthusiastically people have united to support Operation Medicine Cabinet,” said Dick and Joan Hearn of the Watauga River Partners. “We have over 30 community partners, including Helen M. Clabough Charitable Foundation, MountainKeepers, the towns and police departments of Beech Mountain, Boone, Blowing Rock and Seven Devils, the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, the State Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Safe Kids North Carolina, Boone Drug, Watauga County Recycling and Solid Waste Department, Watauga Riverkeeper, Western North Carolina Alliance, Food Lion, Appalachian Voices, Precision Printing, Foscoe and Beaver Dam Fire Departments, the Smoky Mountain Center and Appalachian State University — just to name a few.”