Sites to collect, dispose of unwanted meds

Prescription drug abuse is the nation's fastest-growing drug problem, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

People also have their medicine cabinets crowded with expired and unwanted prescription drugs.

Local and federal law enforcement agencies are taking on both issues. They encourage people to get rid of old prescription medicine by taking it to collection sites Saturday, so it can be disposed of properly.

"No questions asked," Wichita police Capt. Randy Landen said. "Just bring it and dump it off.

"It's an opportunity to get rid of old prescription drugs and even over-the-counter kinds of things people don't want sitting around."

There are seven collection sites in the Wichita area. Collection times vary, but those staffed by the Wichita police and the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The federal drug agency, which is sponsoring the collection campaign, said 55 percent of respondents to a survey said they had acquired prescription drugs free from a friend or relative.

"Meaning they had it lying around," said Scott Collier, an agency spokesman in St. Louis. "So if we can eliminate some of that, you're really taking a large step toward addressing that abuse problem."

And it is a problem.

"We know that first-time users ... kids are initiating with prescription drugs more than with marijuana," Collier said.

He said more people abuse prescription drugs than all other drugs combined, with the exception of marijuana.

"It didn't use to be that way," he said.

And that's why the agency wants to clean out the medicine cabinets.

"People don't think of prescription drugs as drugs," Collier said, "but narcotics are narcotics. They come from the same place, and the brain reacts to them exactly the same. They're just as addictive and dangerous when not used in accordance with a doctor's prescription."

There are also concerns about younger children getting prescription drugs out of their grandparents' or parents' medicine cabinets.

"They don't know what they have," Landen said.

He said burglars are increasingly targeting medicine cabinets.

Throwing old prescription drugs in the trash runs the risk of someone else using or selling them, and flushing drugs down a toilet could harm the water supply.

"Our focus is on drug violation," Collier said. "But if we can help the environment, all the better."

He noted that local law enforcement agencies for years have conducted similar campaigns to collect old prescription drugs.

"But it's very expensive to dispose of them properly," he said. "So we decided if the local agencies will man the collection sites, we'll dispose of them."

He said all drugs will be disposed in incinerators approved by the states and the Environmental Protection Agency.

More than 3,400 sites nationally will be set up Saturday for collection. To find the locations and times for sites statewide, go to www.dea.gov.