Biannual event nets more than 200 pounds of drugs in region

On Saturday, thousands of public safety agencies and substance abuse prevention groups joined forces to collect unwanted medications from residents across the country.

Locally, five stations opened up for the four-hour effort. Staffers from all of them reported turnouts they considered successful.

At the Groton Senior Center, approximately 40 residents filled four large boxes with expired or unneeded drugs. According to Carolyn Wilson of the Ledge Light Health District, drop boxes within Groton Town and Groton City have collected 2 tons of drugs since the summer of 2012.

The Stonington Police Department on Saturday netted 26 pounds of medications, while the New London Police Department collected close to 35. About a dozen people showed up to each of those locations.

Norwich police collected about 20 pounds Saturday. The department, Sgt. First Class John Perry noted, also had collected an additional 120 or 130 pounds in its drop box since February, when it last was emptied.

In Old Lyme, a whopping 62 people turned in 128 pounds of drugs they no longer wanted at the firehouse on Lyme Street.

“Our community tends to outdo other communities in terms of the takeback weight,” said Karen Fischer, prevention coordinator with the Lymes’ Youth Service Bureau.

She believes that’s the case for two reasons.

First, the Lyme-Old Lyme area, unlike many other parts of southeastern Connecticut, doesn’t have its own drop box available 24/7. In order to get one, Fischer explained, a town has to have a police department that also is open 24/7. As a result, residents wanting to drop off medications on most days would have to trek to East Lyme or Troop F in Westbrook.

Second, the events are highly publicized. Fischer said the bureau works with local schools to send a flier about the event home to parents, asks the town to email residents on its distribution list and posts fliers across town.

“This is the 12th time we’ve done it,” Fischer said. “The community looks for it.”

Fischer said people often offer reasons they’re dropping medications off, even though the event is an anonymous, no-questions-asked event.

Some are cleaning out the medicine cabinets of relatives who have died. Others found needles in the woods or elsewhere and didn’t want to leave them there for someone else to stumble upon.

“I think it just speaks to the fact that people are so aware now of the opioid epidemic and the importance of getting those pills out of homes,” Fischer said, calling the event "a great thing."

The nationwide drug takeback days, organized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, have been occurring biannually since October 2010, when U.S. citizens got rid of more than 121 tons of prescriptions. During last year's April event, the DEA collected close to 447 tons of unwanted drugs.

Officials laud the takeback days for multiple reasons: They can help prevent pill abuse and theft while also protecting the environment from medications improperly disposed of via toilets or trash. Pills collected during the events are incinerated.

According to an October news release, last year’s April event netted almost 87,000 pounds of drugs in the DEA New England Field Division alone. Connecticut contributed almost 9,000 pounds.

l.boyle@theday.com

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