Powell police offering drug take-back program

Posted 1/12/10

“It provides people the option,” said Police Chief Tim Feathers.

Drug officials used to recommend that all unused pills be flushed down the toilet or sink. But in recent years, concerns have been raised that the practice is perhaps …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Powell police offering drug take-back program


If you've got leftover prescription medications lying around, there's a new way for you to safely dispose of them.The Powell Police Department has begun a drug take-back program for unused prescription medications. Citizens can bring their drugs to the police department, where they'll later be incinerated.The department received approval from the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration last month to begin the program.

“It provides people the option,” said Police Chief Tim Feathers.

Drug officials used to recommend that all unused pills be flushed down the toilet or sink. But in recent years, concerns have been raised that the practice is perhaps damaging the United States' water system.

Across the U.S., trace amounts of medication have been found in streams, lakes and even drinking water, as wastewater treatment plants and septic systems are generally not designed to treat pharmaceutical waste.

While there have been no data tying the flushed medications to impacts on human health, there has been concern that increased concentrations of drugs are harming fish and damaging aquatic habitat.

The federal Food and Drug Administration generally recommends that unused medicines not be flushed (see related story), but it also notes that the majority of drugs in the nation's water have been put there by the human body's “natural routes of drug elimination (in urine or feces).”

Collecting and incinerating the drugs is believed to be the most environmentally-friendly option, but for Powell police, the issue is more one of public safety than environmental protection.

In the last few years, prescription drugs have become one of the most-abused substances in the area, and the abuse has led to stolen medications.

Officer Matt McCaslin, an evidence custodian overseeing the take-back program, said, “There have been several times that people had old medicine laying around ...”

“And those are the ones that get stolen,” finished Feathers.

By getting rid of leftover pills, “it removes you as a potential victim. If you don't have them there, it removes any motivation for someone to steal them,” said Feathers.

Further, accidental ingestion or abuse of the wrong medication can be harmful or fatal.

“As soon as the need for those (medications) has passed, those should be immediately disposed of,” said Feathers.

McCaslin said the process of transferring the pills to the police department's custody will likely take somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes, depending on how much medication a person is disposing of.

“When people come in it's not going to simply be, meet them at the window and take the bottle of pills and say, ‘Thank you very much,'” said McCaslin.

An officer will sit down with the person bringing in the medication, count out the pills with them, record information about the medications — such as color and type — and then seal the container and put it in a secure holding bin that is basically a secured mailbox.

“They will stay in there under lock and key until it's time to dispose them,” said McCaslin.

“Once they come into our possession, drugs are drugs, and that's the way we handle them,” said Feathers.

As with all other drugs taken by the police department, the prescription medications will be incinerated at Powell Valley Hospital.

Feathers said it is important to bring in your own medications, not someone else's.

If a resident is physically unable to come to the police station, Feathers said the department can arrange for an officer to go to the individual's home and accept the leftover medications there.

He also said that if requested, the department will accept leftover drugs at community events; for example, the department plans to be on-hand to accept the medications at the April Health and Safety Fair.

Feathers noted that the police department has flexible hours for citizens.

“We're open 24/7,” he said.

The Powell department joins many law enforcement entities across the nation — including Casper and Lovell — in starting a take-back program.

Lovell Chief of Police Nick Lewis said the department has received an “overwhelming” response to the program. He said the department has residents bringing in pills on “at least” a weekly basis.

The program has been in effect for about a year in Lovell.

In the battle against prescription drug abuse, Lewis said the take-back program was one of the few “that has worked well right away.”

“We've actually gotten thousands of prescription pills off the streets,” he said.

The convenience of the program has been the key, Lewis said. In Lovell, the police department accepts medications that range from vitamins to inhalers to pain medications. They also are destroyed in the Powell hospital's incinerator.

“We take everything,” said Lewis.

In Powell, Feathers said the take-back program is only accepting prescription drugs. Over-the-counter products, he said, don't have the same high potential for abuse or harm.

“If it's not a prescription drug, if it's not a controlled substance, throw it in the garbage,” said Feathers.