FREEPORT — After seeing an increase in prescription drugs turned in at semi-annual take-back events, Cumberland County officials have installed public boxes to give people more chances to turn in unwanted drugs.
Prescription drug take-back boxes were installed Tuesday at police departments in Freeport, Yarmouth, and Cumberland. They provide the opportunity to drop off unused or out-of-date prescription drugs whenever people desire.
“The intention is to get unwanted and undated prescription drugs out of people’s homes,” said Beth Blakeman-Pohl, the drug-free communities coordinator at Casco Bay CAN (Create Awareness Now).
The boxes were provided by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the city of Portland through a Healthy Maine Partnership grant. Residents will be able to make drop-offs seven days a week with no questions asked. The boxes will be emptied weekly and the contents will be incinerated.
“It gives people the chance to immediately give back drugs as soon as they want to,” Freeport Police Chief Gerry Schofield said.
Maine holds semi-annual drug take-back events, but after the record amount of drugs turned in this April, it was decided that people need more opportunities to turn in prescriptions.
According to Blakeman-Pohl, over 27,000 pounds of prescription drugs were turned in statewide in April. She said Maine has consistently been the leading state per capita for relinquished drugs.
That is attributed to Maine’s elderly population, which is 17 percent of the state’s total, compared to the 14 percent national average. Maine also has 20 percent of its population under 18 years of age. According to the Substance Abuse Trends in Maine Epidemiological Profile 2014, more than 10 percent of high school students reported misusing prescription drugs in their lifetime.
According to the 2013 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, one in 33 Casco Bay-area students in grades 7-12 reported misusing prescription drugs in the past 30 days.
According to Blakeman-Pohl, there is already a drop box in Portland, but she said many people don’t want to drive too far to give back prescriptions. She said many will wait until the semi-annual take back, meaning the drugs are sitting in their possession and may be accessible to someone who may misuse them.
She said the new boxes help people who don’t want to make the drive to Portland.
“This is really getting it into our rural communities,” Blakeman-Pohl said.
Another problem that occurs when waiting for a big take-back event is that people will flush the prescriptions down the toilet. It is then possible for the drugs to get into rivers, streams and the ocean, and ingested by fish.
“When it’s flushed down the toilet, it inevitably ends up in the waterways,” Blakeman-Pohl said.
Landis Hudson, executive director of Maine Rivers, said sewage treatment plants aren’t designed to remove prescription drugs from the water. She said once fish ingest the drugs, that can then come back to harm people, if they consume the fish.
“There’s research done showing this has an impact on fish populations,” Hudson said. “There’s studies showing adverse effects on aquatic life, and that’s concerning.”
Because of the effect on youth and others who may misuse drugs, as well as the harm that can come to fish and other creatures, Blakeman-Pohl said the secure steel boxes should have a big impact.
“I think ultimately it’ll keep the medications out of the hands of people who might misuse them,” Blakeman-Pohl said. “When we keep the communities safe, that’s the best.”
Large steel boxes were installed Tuesday at police departments in Freeport, Yarmouth, and Cumberland to help residents dispose of unwanted prescription drugs.