United States Attorney Anne M. Tompkins
Western District of North Carolina
OPERATION MEDICINE DROP A SUCCESS IN WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA Local Events Collected Medications for Safe, Secure Disposal CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Over 610 pounds of prescription drug medications were collected at three local events held in Mecklenburg, Rutherford and Cherokee Counties in North Carolina, as part of “Operation Medicine Drop” on Saturday, October 29, 2011. Operation Medicine Drop is a program designed to raise public awareness about the dangers of the misuse of prescription medications, and to provide the public with an opportunity to safely remove outdated or unwanted prescription drugs and other medicines from their homes. Today’s announcement is made jointly by Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina; John S. Comer, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Atlanta Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which oversees the Charlotte District Office; Chief Rodney D. Monroe of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department; Sheriff Chris Francis of the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office; Sheriff Keith Lovin, of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office; and Chief Benjamin L. Reed of the Cherokee Indian Police Department.
According to DEA, prescription drugs that languish in home medicine cabinets are highly susceptible to diversion, misuse, and abuse, creating significant public health risks. The rate of prescription drug abuse in the U.S. today is at an alarmingly high level. Two-and-a-half times more people currently abuse prescription drugs than the number of those using cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, and inhalants combined, according to the recently released 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). The same study shows that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet. “Prescription drug abuse is a serious and growing problem,” said U.S. Attorney Tompkins. “There is a misperception, particularly among young people, that prescription drugs are safer and less addictive than street drugs. Nothing can be further from the truth. Some prescription medicines, such as the painkiller OxyContin, and stimulants like Ritalin are very addictive, especially when they are used in a manner inconsistent with their labeling or for reasons they were not prescribed.” John S. Comer, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division commented, “The staggering total of 188.5 tons of prescription drugs turned in during the National Take Back event is a step in the right direction to stem the tide of prescription drug abuse in America. The total number of drugs taken back in North Carolina (7,506 pounds) speaks volumes about the problem of unused and unneeded prescriptions, the danger they pose to the community and the communities’ commitment to making prescription drug abuse a top priority in the state.”
OPERATION MEDICINE DROP Operation Medicine Drop is an effort coordinated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the North Carolina Department of Insurance, Safe Kids North Carolina, the State Bureau of Investigation, and local groups to prevent accidental poisoning and substance abuse and to protect our waters. The service is free and anonymous, and individuals are encouraged to drop off any prescription or over-the-counter medications at specific locations set up by local law enforcement, without being asked any questions or fearing prosecution. “Most of us do not think of our medicine cabinets as places containing dangerous or lethal drugs, so we don’t lock up our medications, making them vulnerable to theft or misuse,” noted U.S. Attorney Tompkins. “Prescription drugs are the second most commonly used category of drugs, behind marijuana and ahead of cocaine, heroine, and methamphetamine. It’s important to discard prescription drugs when they are no longer needed for their intended use. Asking individuals to participate in their safe disposal is an important step in dealing with the epidemic of prescription drug abuse,” Tompkins added.
Attorney General Roy Cooper stated, “Prescription drugs can have dangerous and even deadly consequences when misused. More and more young people are abusing prescription drugs, and most of them get their drugs at home or from a friend’s home. I’m pleased that so many North Carolina families have taken this opportunity to safely dispose of unused drugs before they lead to tragedy.” “It is a priority for the Department of Insurance and Safe Kids North Carolina to explore all avenues to protect our children from the dangers of expired, unused, and unwanted prescription medications,” said Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin. “Having government agencies and law enforcement work together on events like this one is an effective way to make sure medications do not end up in the wrong hands.” Mecklenburg County In Mecklenburg County, 224,862 doses of medication, approximately 474 pounds, were collected from seven Operation Medicine Drop sites set up at Harris Teeter grocery stores and Wallgreens pharmacies throughout the county. “The amount of prescription drug medications collected in the three counties is staggering," said Chief Rodney Monroe of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD). “It really puts into perspective the potential danger and opportunities for misuse that are lying around people’s homes.”
Along with CMPD’s Narcotics Division, local partners that sponsored the event included: Carolinas Medical Center, Mecklenburg County Alcoholic Beverage Control Board Law Enforcement Division, Matthews Police Department, Huntersville Police Department, Mint Hill Police Department, Harris Teeter, Safe Kids Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Carolinas Center for Injury Prevention, Yadkin Riverkeeper and Catawba Riverkeeper. Rutherford County In Rutherford County, 34,329 pills, totaling over 94 pounds, were collected from three collection sites. Collection boxes were located at the Forest City Fire Department, Ellenboro Fire Department, and the Food Lion grocery store in Rutherfordton. “I have personally seen the devastation that families suffer because of a deadly overdose,” said Sheriff Francis. “That’s why Operation Medicine Drop is so important-because of the potential to save lives. It’s critical to offer residents in our community a way to safely dispose of potentially deadly medications that they no longer need. It’s much better than seeing them suffer through the loss of a loved one.” Local partners who sponsored this event included: United Way of Rutherford County, Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office, Forest City Police Department, Rutherfordton Police Department, Spindale Police Department, Forest City Fire Department, Ellensboro Fire Department, Rutherford County Schools, Northland Cable and WCAB radio, and Safe Kids of Rutherford County.
Cherokee County Collection efforts in Cherokee County resulted in the collection of over 42 pounds of prescription medications. The Cherokee Indian Police Department supervised three drop off locations on Tribal lands and collected over 18,000 dosage units of prescription drugs. Chief Ben Reed stated, “Operation Medicine Drop is a great program that allows proper disposal of old and unused medication. This is a great way to properly dispose of medicine and kee the medicine from being abused, sold, or stolen. I appreciate all of our community members that came out to help protect our children and our community. Thank you!” The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office collected 6,520 dosage units from collection sites located at the Valleytown Fire Department and the Murphy Fire Department. In addition to the Valleytown and Murphy Fire Departments, local partners who collaborated in this effort included Andrews Police Department and the Coalition for a Safe and Drug Free Cherokee County.
PRESCRIPTION DRUG STATISTICS The DEA sites these alarming statistics about the growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse:
• The non-medical use of prescription drugs ranks second, only to marijuana, as the most prevalent category of drug abuse in the United States, according to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).
• Two-and-a-half times more Americans currently abuse prescription drugs than the number of those using cocaine, hallucinogens, heroin, and inhalants combined, according to the 2010 NSDUH.
• The 2010 NSDUH reports that in 2010, 7 million people over the age of 12 used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons during the month before being surveyed.
• One in twelve high-school seniors used the pharmaceutical narcotic Vicodin for nonmedical purposes during the previous year, according to 2010 Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF) data. Over 5 percent used OxyContin, a potent narcotic, during the previous year.
• Six of the top ten substances abused by 12th graders in the year prior to the survey were prescription or over the counter medications, the 2010 MTF also shows.
• The 2010 NSDUH reports that 2.4 million people 12 and older abused prescription drugs for the first time last year, an average of 6,600 a day.
• Two million people began their abuse of any drug for the first time ever with pain relievers (second only to marijuana, with 2.4 million), according to the 2010 NSDUH. Of those, 1.9 million of those people went on to become dependent, and 406,000 people received specialty treatment for addiction to pain relievers in 2010.
• Of those 12 and older who abused pain relievers in the past year, the majority (55 percent) got them from friends and family for free, including from their home medicine cabinets, according to the 2010 NSDUH. Another 17.3 percent reported they got the drug from one doctor. Only 4.4 percent got them from a drug dealer or stranger, and only 0.4 (four-tenths of one percent, or slightly more than four people out of a thousand) bought them on the Internet.
• Visits by individuals to hospital emergency rooms involving the misuse or abuse or pharmaceutical drugs have doubled over the past five years and, for the third year in a row, exceed the number of visits involving illicit drugs, according to 2009 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) data released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
• Emergency room visits involving pharmaceutical drugs in 2009 (1.2 million) are up 10 percent over 2008 (1.1 million), according to 2009 DAWN data.
DEA encourages parents, along with their children, to educate themselves about the dangers of legal and illegal drugs by visiting DEA’s interactive websites at www.justhinktwice.com, www.GetSmartAboutDrugs.com and www.dea.gov.
For more information about Operation Medicine Drop, go to www.ncsafekids.org.