Police seek drug disposal methods after DEA program ends

Monday, February 16, 2015

CAPE GIRARDEAU -- The recent demise of a Drug Enforcement Administration program has left local police scrambling to figure out what to do with unwanted drugs collected from the public.

Thanks to EPIC -- Early Prevention Impacts Community, a local drug-abuse prevention program -- many police departments in Southeast Missouri have secure bins residents can use to dispose of expired or unwanted medications, which can poison children, feed addictions or contaminate drinking water.

Until recently, the departments turned the medications over to the DEA to destroy at its semiannual drug take-back events.

The Jackson Police Department's drug bin kept 400 pounds of pills per year out of the wrong hands and away from the water supply, Capt. Scott Eakers said.

But the federal agency canceled the program after its last event in September.

"They're not collecting the pills and destroying them for us anymore," said Darin Hickey, public information officer for the Cape Girardeau Police Department.

A Nov. 5 news release from the DEA says the agency began hosting the take-back events in 2010 to provide a legal means for people to dispose of unwanted prescription drugs.

A week after the first event, Congress enacted a law authorizing the DEA to develop regulations allowing certain drug manufacturers, distributors, drug treatment programs and pharmacies to collect and destroy unwanted drugs, the release stated.

The DEA discontinued the events after the new regulations went into effect last year, leaving some local police departments in a bind.

"We didn't know that the program was going to be just shut off like that," Eakers said. "... Now everybody's got the drug box, but we don't have any place to go with the drugs."

The Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department has removed its box because the cost of disposing of the drugs is too high, said Capt. Ruth Ann Dickerson.

Eakers and Hickey said they are working with EPIC to find a way to continue the program in their departments.

"We're actively researching other ways to keep this thing going," Eakers said. "Hopefully, it's not dead."

Perryville, Missouri, Police Chief Direk Hunt said a department with an incinerator has offered to destroy drugs for his department and the Perry County Sheriff's Department.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends an alternate method for those who lack access to drug take-back bins.

Rather than tossing drugs into the trash, container and all, the EPA advises mixing unwanted drugs into coffee grounds or cat litter and placing the mixture into a sealable bag or disposable container before throwing it away.

Sending pills to the landfill is not ideal, but it is better than flushing them, EPA compliance officer Ed Buckner said.

He said landfills have liners and pipe systems that collect contaminated liquid for treatment instead of allowing it to percolate into the groundwater.

Medications flushed down the toilet end up in waterways, because sewage treatment plants are built to process organic matter, not chemicals, Buckner said.

"Its main thing is poop," he said, laughing. "They're just not designed to handle the really complex chemicals."

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