WALLA WALLA -- Starting with one dedicated day, health-care and law enforcement officials are taking a new step to reduce unauthorized access to prescription drugs and to safely dispose of old medicine.
"National Prescription Drug Take Back Day" occurs across the nation on Saturday, when people can show up at specific locations to turn in any kind of medicine of drugs, "no questions asked," said Vicki Ruley, coordinator of the city of Walla Walla's Crime Prevention Office.
In Walla Walla, a secure box will be available at the Walla Walla Police Department from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Local efforts are a collaboration between city and county agencies, and community groups concerned about the epidemic of prescription drug misuse and addiction. Partners include the Walla Walla Police Department, Trilogy Recovery Community, Walla Walla Area Crime Watch, College Place Police Department, Walla Walla County Sheriff's Office, Walla Walla County Substance Abuse Task Force and Retired Senior Volunteer Program.
The event is a two-pronged approach to drug safety, she said. Improper disposal of both prescription and over-the-counter medications causes contamination in waterways when drugs are sent down the drain. As well, putting pills into the garbage can out them into the hands of drug seekers.
The bigger component, however, is getting expired and no-longer-used prescription drugs out of cupboards and away from the wrong hands.
Abuse of prescribed opiates is a troubling and fast-growing problem, health officials say. In Seattle alone, emergency room visits for non-medical use of such drugs shot up 47 percent between 2004 and 2007.
Addicts often favor pain relievers such as OxyContin, codeine and Vicodin, Ruley said. Drug overdoses have surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of accidental deaths in Washington and youth admissions to state-funded treatment for prescription opiates are 19 times higher than in 2001.
The Washington Poison Control Center assists callers every day regarding drug and medication abuse. Last year, more than 400 calls were placed to the agency about teenagers who had abused controlled substances and other medications or illicit drugs. Recently, a Washington teenager died from ingesting a family member's medication, a center spokesperson said.
The root of the problem is often found in the family's medicine cabinet. Prescription medicines are on hand for teens to grab, often without ever raising a red flag.
Three in five teens say prescription pain relievers are easy to get that way and more than half of prescription drug abusers get the medicines from a friend or relative.
County officials here are working to get funding for a permanent secure drop box in Walla Walla and in Waitsburg. Those boxes will be located at a law enforcement office.
For more Walla Walla-specific information call Alex Luft at 524-2920.
Law enforcement agencies in Columbia and Garfield are also participating in the day, during the same hours. Columbia County Sheriff's Deputy Jeff Jenkins said abuse of prescription drugs is a new drug problem for that agency. Jenkins, who is the department's drug enforcement officer, said young people are taking "anything and everything" they find in medicine cabinet.
In those counties, intravenous solutions, injectables and needles will not be accepted. Illicit substances such as marijuana or methamphetamine are not a part of the initiative, Jenkins said. All solid-dosage pharmaceutical products and liquids in consumer containers will be accepted, but should be sealed tightly.
Collection sites outside of Walla Walla are: Garfield County Sheriff's Office, 789 W. Main St., Pomeroy, 509-843-3494; Columbia County Sheriff's Office, 341 E. Main St., Dayton, 509-382-2518.
Staff writer Carrie Chicken contributed to this report. Sheila Hagar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8322. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.