published Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

Chattanooga law enforcement to install drug deposit boxes for prescriptions

Capt. Charles Lowery removes prescriptions disposed of in new drug collection boxes at the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office East Annex on Tuesday in Ooltewah. The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has provided three drug collection boxes to the Hamilton County Sheriff Office. The boxes are intended to give citizens a safe way to dispose of expired or unneeded medication to protect the water supply and reduce prescription abuse.
Capt. Charles Lowery removes prescriptions disposed of in new drug collection boxes at the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office East Annex on Tuesday in Ooltewah. The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has provided three drug collection boxes to the Hamilton County Sheriff Office. The boxes are intended to give citizens a safe way to dispose of expired or unneeded medication to protect the water supply and reduce prescription abuse.
Photo by Maura Friedman.

DRUG TAKE BACK EVENT

The event is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the following locations.

• East Chattanooga Improvement, Inc., 1502 McCallie Ave., Suite A & B

• Blood Assurance, 705 East Fourth St.

• Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, 6223 Dayton Blvd.

• Hamilton County Coalition and Walgreens Pharmacy, 2289 Gunbarrel Road

• Brainerd Village, 5770 Brainerd Road

• CVS Pharmacy, 4700 Highway 58 at Hal Drive

• University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Police Department, Saturday and Sunday

DROP BOX LOCATIONS

• Chattanooga Police Department, Property and Evidence Room, 3204 Amnicola Highway. (The box will be available 24 hours per day and is expected to be ready on Nov. 1 for drop-offs. To call ahead and check, call the property room at 643-5153.)

• Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, West Sector, 6233 Dayton Blvd., or East Sector, 8395 Hickory Valley Road (Drugs can be deposited in the box inside either lobby between the hours of 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday beginning Oct. 28.)

Local law enforcement agencies are beginning to install drug deposit boxes for residents to dump unwanted prescription drugs.

"We're just keeping our fingers crossed and hoping people use them a lot," Chattanooga Police Department Lt. Brian Cotter said.

The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office will have two deposit boxes available to the public beginning Monday, Capt. Charles Lowery said at a Tuesday news conference called by the sheriff.

"You don't have to take the pills out of the bottles. You can just bring them by in a plastic bag and just dump them," he said.

Chattanooga police Chief Bobby Dodd said the installation of the boxes has taken years to come to life.

"The program never came to fruition due to grant fund shortages. There was later a discussion to place them at surrounding private drugstores to allow customers to drop off old prescriptions when they pick up their new ones," Dodd said. "This idea did not meet standards, because they have to be monitored by law enforcement and the drugs have to be destroyed within Drug Enforcement Administration guidelines and at a DEA-approved facility."

Since 2009, the police department has focused on take-back days with the hope of installing boxes, Dodd said. More than 2,000 pounds of drugs have been collected at the events over the years. The city used to pay to destroy the drugs in an incinerator.

The department will feature a disposal box at its property and evidence room in a move tentatively scheduled to begin Nov. 1.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation stepped up to donate the boxes that will be placed at local law enforcement agencies including the police department and sheriff's office. Plans are under way to set up boxes at police agencies in Red Bank, East Ridge and Collegedale.

"The improper disposal of pharmaceuticals can get into the water systems and impair our waters. So, by properly disposing of them, we're not polluting the water as much," said Tyler Jeffrey, external affairs director for the state Department of Environment and Conservation. "This is a great way to take back any unwanted, expired or unused medicines in convenient locations in Hamilton County."

The state agency has helped set up more than 70 collection boxes in more than 40 counties, Jeffrey said.

The Hamilton County Coalition, a local nonprofit organization that focuses on alcohol abuse, misuse of tobacco products and prescription drug abuse, provided the labeling for the boxes.

"These drug drop boxes, in my opinion, are a new public safety tool, protecting our youth and young adults from the harms of old and new prescription drugs that are unsupervised," said Hugh Reece, a member of the coalition.

Lowery said the drug disposal boxes will be frequently emptied. Until the boxes were installed, residents had to rely on catching a drug take-back day.

"The pharmacies will not take them. The hospitals will not take them. And that's when we started talking about this," said Lowery, who noted the sheriff's office began discussing the boxes six months ago. "Before this was in place, there was no place to take them."

Both the sheriff's office and police department will have the drugs destroyed by the DEA.

Anita Bertrand, coalition manager for the Tennessee Recovery Project for the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, said she thinks the increased effort to get people to properly dispose of unwanted medications will help lessen prescription drug abuse.

"We're often seeing young people who are selling drugs or using drugs are actually taking things out of the medicine cabinet at home," she said. "This is a way for parents to get rid of medications before anyone else can do anything with them."

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger.

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