A new take on combating drug abuse is taking place this week at Southern—encouraging people to bringing unused medicines that can end up misused on the street or polluting the water.
Improper prescription drug disposal—from flushing pills down the toilet to keeping them in the medicine cabinet for years—poses potential safety and health hazards not only for people, but for ecosystems as well.
Since 2010, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has held National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, an initiative that has collected 2.8 million pounds of prescription drugs since its commencement.
For the first time in National Prescription Drug Take-Back history, residents will be able to drop off unused or unwanted prescription drugs at Southern Connecticut State University, thanks to Earth Science Adjunct Professor Julie Rumrill (pictured) and her Inquiry (INQ) class.
This is Rumrill’s first year teaching an INQ class, a First Year Experience (FYE) course at the school that aims to engage freshmen in real-life issues. With water resources and sustainability as her class’ semester-long focus, Rumrill wanted to create a project that not only went with the theme, but would also give students the opportunity to make a difference: properly disposing pharmaceuticals and educating people on the implications of improper disposal.
“I started to look around and see what current topics were really upcoming concerns and this is one of those types of topics,” said Rumrill. “We know that pharmaceuticals have been in our water stream for a long time and there’s been a lot of research focused on the effects not only on ecosystems, which has been pretty well-established, but also on humans and human health, and how they may have chronic health implications in the future.”
Instead of hosting a one-day take-back, people will have an entire week—from Oct. 26 until Nov. 2.—to drop off their medications in a secured, locked container (pictured) in the lobby of Southern’s campus police station, located at 10 Wintergreen Ave.
“As we were setting up the event, I got some emails from faculty members on campus who were very interested in this take-back day, who said they weren’t going to be around on Saturday and asked me to extend the event for a couple more days,” explained Rumrill, who said she spoke to University Police Chief Joseph Dooley about extending the event. “He was absolutely supportive of the idea.”
Rumrill said pharmaceuticals that are collected during the campaign are properly disposed of by incineration.
“What that does is make the compounds chemically inert so they can be taken to landfills,” explained Rumrill.
Since the start of the semester, Rumrill has provided her students with a variety of background information on the effects of improper pharmaceutical disposal, including lectures, readings, case studies and documentaries.
Rumrill also had an officer from the Statewide Narcotics Task Force come in and talk to her class about the social implications of having medications laying around instead of properly disposing of them, including increases in crime and addiction rates.
State Police Lt. Mark Sticca, said disposing of pharmaceuticals by throwing them in the trash is also hazardous.
According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH): a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet.
“Having unused, unwanted prescription medications in your home or in the trash could potentially be a danger to people, including children and people that could get a hold of them who aren’t supposed to be getting a hold of them,” said Sticca.
The Statewide Narcotics Task Force is comprised of state police detectives and officers from participating cities and towns in the state.
From July 2012 to June 2013, Sticca said, the task force seized 11,107 prescription pills with a street value of approximately $328,000.
Some 13,096 pills with a street value of about $45,000 have been seized since July 2013.
Most of the pills the task force comes across are opiate derivatives like Oxycontin and Oxycodone. Sticca said being that they are derivatives of opium, which is also used to make heroin, they are the task force’s biggest concern.
“What you will see, depending on the location, is a semiotic effect of those two drugs [opiate derivatives and heroin] that’s driven by supply-and-demand,” said Sticca, who further explained that if it’s cheaper to buy prescription drugs, then opiate addicts are more likely to purchase them instead of heroin.
“You’ll see throughout the country that states with a big prescription drug problem probably have a high price of heroin, whereas places that don’t have a big prescription drug problem most likely have cheap heroin prices,” said Sticca.
According to Sticca, the heroin trade in Connecticut is one reason the state doesn’t have a big prescription drug problem compared to some other states.
“With the heroin trade being as it is in this state [Connecticut] and with major cities having it [heroin] at a relatively cheap price, we haven’t seen that influx of prescription drugs taking the place of the heroin trade,” said Sticca. “We don’t nearly have the prescription drug problem that states like Maine, Florida and some of the southern states have, but it is increasing, and it is growing. It is one of our prime initiatives.”
Last April, over 371 tons—742,000 pounds—of prescription drugs were turned over nationwide at over 5,800 drop-off sites.
Rumrill said she doesn’t know what to expect the turnout of prescription drugs to be at Southern. She said she hopes for take-backs to become an annual event on campus.
“I can foresee this continuing in the future, being an annual event on campus,” said Rumrill, who believes that participation in the initiative is a way to foster stewardship and bring positive change. “If we all do our little part and do what we can, then collectively it adds up to making a difference.”