ROCKINGHAM — Police and sheriff’s officers will collect unused, unneeded and out-of date prescription and over-the-counter medicines this week as part of Operation Medicine Drop, a statewide effort to protect North Carolina’s children and water supply.
• Richmond County sheriff’s deputies will set up their collection station 1-5 p.m. Wednesday, at G104 radio station, 180 Airport Road, Rockingham.
• Rockingham Police will be at Medical Center Pharmacy, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, 805 Long Drive, Rockingham.
In each case, people dropping off their medicines won’t even need to leave their vehicles; the officers will be set up in a drive-through operation.
“Just bag the stuff up in the bottles,” sheriff’s Lt. N.L. Forester said Monday. Officers will empty the bags of bottled pills and liquids, black out the names of prescription holders with a permanent marker, and then count and measure the medicines to determine the number of dosages they have collected.
“We do count ours by hand because we want to have an accurate count,” Forester said. To that end, deputies will be armed with a pill counter. Last year, he said, Richmond County sent 30,000 doses to the state to be destroyed.
In May, the N.C. Bureau of Investigation incinerated more than 7 tons of outdated and unneeded drugs, including 233 pounds collected in Richmond County.
Since its establishment in 2010, Operation Medicine Drop has collected about 90 million pills.
The operation is particularly crucial in protecting teenagers, Forester said: Youngters may want to experiment and not be too particular about what they’re ingesting or inhaling when they find neglected drugs in their parents’ medicine cabinets.
According to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control last August, the rate of teenage drug-overdose deaths more than doubled between 1999 and 2015, the latest year for which complete statistics are available, making overdoses likely to surpass traffic accidents as teens’ No. 1 killer.
Forester also worries that people may leave unused drugs unattended in the homes of deceased relatives because family members don’t know how to dispose of the drugs. In the meantime, he said, someone could break in, steal the drugs and sell them on the street.
Richmond County has one of the highest rates of dispensing of opioids (painkillers) in the state, as well as one of the highest rates of opioid overdose, according to figures from the state Center for Health Statistics.
But people aren’t the only ones threatened by unintended overdose, Forester said. Dumping unused medicines down the drain — where they will mix with both untreated and treated water — can harm the ecosystem. Some drugs, he said, may not come out during the purification process.
Operation Medicine Drop pairs state and local law-enforcement agencies with Safe Kids North Carolina, the Riverkeepers of North Carolina and local anti-drug coalitions. The effort encourages the public to dispose of unused, unwanted and expired medications — both prescription and over the counter, including pills, liquids and inhalants — to prevent accidental poisonings and drug abuse while protecting the state’s rivers and lakes.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673.