Morris cops ask public to help close door on medicine chest


Morris cops ask public to help close door on medicine chest


A Drug Enforcement Agency poster about Saturday's unwanted prescription and over-the-counter medicine drop-off event.
A Drug Enforcement Agency poster about Saturday's unwanted prescription and over-the-counter medicine drop-off event.


National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day offers consumers an opportunity to drop off their unneeded or unwanted prescription and over-the-counter medicines at specific locations.
‹‚WHEN:‚10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday
‹‚WHO:‚Sponsored by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration,
‹‚WHERE:‚The following Morris County police stations are drop-off sites: Chester Township, Denville, Florham Park, Hanover, Jefferson, Madison, Mendham, Morris Plains, Mount Arlington, Netcong, Picatinny Arsenal and Rockaway Township. Also at Liberty Drug and Surgical in Chatham, Rockaway Community Center, Roxbury Township Recreation and Investors Savings Bank in Morris Plains.
‹‚WHAT:All unwanted prescription or over-the-counter medicines. While the program is not intended to collect needles or any kind of other sharp objects, some sites may have containers for these items. But people should first check with the site, according to the DEA.

When it comes to prescription or over-the-counter medicines in homes, law enforcement agencies have one main concern: the drugs could get into the wrong hands.

For youth, prescription drugs are the "second most abused drug in America, (only) behind marijuana," said John McCabe Jr., acting special agent-in-charge of the New Jersey office of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

These abusers generally find the drug through an acquaintance, such as stealing the drugs from a family member.

"The instances of "pharming' (the abuse of legitimate drugs), young people taking medications, overdosing, is becoming problematic, epidemic," said Morris County Prosecutor Robert A. Bianchi.

Bianchi also noted children could get into medicines of their grandparents, for example — whether or not they realize what the item is.

"We have instances of grandkids coming over the grandparents' house, they have access," said Toms River Police Chief Michael Mastronardy. "You have to secure your medicines, because of the high incidents we have of substance abuse."

In order to reduce the availability of such drugs, more than 300 sites will be available Saturday for the public to drop off unwanted prescription or over-the-counter medicines — part of the DEA's "National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day."

"I think it's outstanding," said Sgt. Michael Knoll of the East Brunswick Police, which is hosting a drop-off site. "Everybody talks about the big drugs. These are everyday drugs that people get prescribed, that are in easy reach of little kids and adults possibly wanting to experiment."

While this is DEA's second national take-back day, it is the third statewide effort in New Jersey. The New Jersey DEA office held the first one in 2009, calling it "Operation Medicine Cabinet."

It was prompted by concerns about youth abusing prescription drugs, according to the DEA.

"DEA headquarters used our model to take it nationwide," said Special Agent Douglas S. Collier, public information officer for the DEA in New Jersey.

A concern is that youth abusing prescription drugs could move on to harder drugs, such as heroin, Collier said.

"For us" — Collier and McCabe, who have both been with the DEA for 22 years — "it was a wake-up call," Collier said. "We didn't think we were coming on this job to deal with prescription drugs."

In 2009, 465 sites collected more than 9,000 pounds of items, according to the DEA. Last year, 360 sites collected more than 14,000 pounds in New Jersey, according to the DEA.

To preserve anonymity, those dropping off items can bag it for drop-off, according to the DEA. Because the program stresses anonymity, the DEA said no information was available on the number of participants.

"If you have something in your home, you can get rid of it," McCabe said.

"We're not asking questions," Collier added.

In past cleanups though, people were "volunteering this information," McCabe said.

For example, people brought in medicines that had been used by now-deceased spouses, Collier said.

"We observed moms coming in with a lot of (outdated) medication for children," Collier said.

Bianchi, whose office is hosting a site, recalled being at the Morris County Police Academy drop-off site, and seeing large garbage bags, at least 15 to 20 in number, filled with items.

"I didn't think it was going to be as successful as it was," Bianchi said. "I was delightfully proven wrong."

In Monmouth County, Englishtown police Sgt. Peter Cooke said the department had "a very good turnout" in 2010. "The elderly were bringing in their prescriptions, soccer moms, all walks of life were bringing in unwanted or expired, unused (medicines)."

Last year, in the national collection held in September, more than 242,000 pounds, or 121 tons, was turned in at 4,100 sites, according to the DEA.

Local law enforcement agencies determine the local drop-off sites. The DEA then picks up the drugs at a location in each of New Jersey's 21 counties, and incinerates the drugs.

This year, the DEA is focusing on long-term health care facilities dropping off unneeded drugs, including those left behind by someone who died, according to the DEA. The DEA said there are more than 700 long-term health care facilities in the state.

"We're giving the long-term care facilities an opportunity to get rid of these drugs," McCabe said.

Also, the DEA has been visiting age-restricted communities in the Toms River area, which has a large senior population — and, presumably, lots of prescription drugs at home — to promote the program.

In both 2009 and 2010, Toms River police collected some 300 pounds of drugs at the site they ran, Mastronardy said. He said Toms River residents who cannot make it to the drop-off site this year can call the police before Saturday for pickup of the items.

Another DEA push is to reach Spanish-speaking people.

A secondary benefit of the program is protecting the environment.

"You don't want to be flushing them down the toilet, throwing (the items) in the garbage, because they just wind up in the ecosystem," Cooke said.

"This is just a safer, environmentally friendly way to get rid of this stuff," Knoll said.

Those involved noted the program as a model because it combined the public's cooperation with the services of law enforcement at all levels — federal, state, county and local.

"This is another example of proactive programs," Bianchi said. "The DEA does a wonderful job with this."

"I think it's an excellent program," said Cooke of the Englishtown police. "These meds are lying around. Nowadays, you never know whose hands they're going to get into."

The federal Secure and Responsible Drug-Disposal Act of 2010 allows states to take over this type of program. However, DEA has to put a protocol in place first.

Joseph Sapia: 732-308-7754;