Preparing for a news conference at which he was going to ask the public to inventory and clean out their medicine cabinets, U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian decided to do the same with his own medicine cabinet at home.
The goal of the admonition is to get parents and residents to ensure that legally prescribed prescription drugs, which can end up sitting in those medicine cabinets long after they were initially needed, get disposed of properly and out of the reach of youth who might divert and abuse them.
To his surprise, Hartunian said he found a bottle of unused prescription painkillers, prescribed previously for a family member, but no longer needed and then gathering dust.
“If I have these in my family’s medicine cabinet,” Hartunian told television cameras at a Monday morning news conference on the issue of dangers posed by prescription drugs, “then I suspect many of you might have them in yours.”
The purpose of the news conference was to call attention to the problem of prescription drug abuse, especially among young people.
Those at the news conference gave a list of alarming statistics concerning prescription drug abuse among teens, including that at least 44 percent of teens have at least one friend who has abused prescription drugs.
In the Capital Region, admissions to substance abuse treatment programs of those under the age of 25 who cite prescription opiates as their drug of choice increased 190 percent from 2007 to 2011, according to an official with the state Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services.
Of those teens who abuse prescription drugs, two thirds get them from friends, family or people they know.
To help combat that part of the problem — the easy availability of the drugs in medicine cabinets — the Drug Enforcement Administration is coordinating its fifth biannual National Take Back Day, when law enforcement agencies nationwide will have manned drop boxes where residents can dump their unneeded medication to have it properly disposed of with no questions asked.
It is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
The effort is coupled with a statewide educational webinar scheduled called “Prescription Drug Abuse: NOT What the Doctor Ordered!” in coordination with the Capital Region BOCES. That is to run from 1 to 2 p.m. Friday, focusing on educating communities, schools and agencies about the dangers of abusing prescription and over-the-counter medicines. It will be available at http://breeze.neric.org/pda2012/event/registration.html
Past drug take-back efforts have been successful locally, said James Burns, DEA assistant special agent in charge, netting a total of 11,300 pounds of drugs, including over 5,000 just at one event earlier this year.
That means there is 11,300 pounds that won’t be diverted or endanger lives, he said.
Burns recalled that public concern years ago over automobile safety increased safety standards in cars.
“I want to see the public really get upset about this and learn about this so that we can work in unison with the public to come up with a solution and terminate this epidemic of prescription drug abuse,” he said.
If residents can’t make it to a drop-off point, officials don’t recommend flushing the medicine down the toilet. That can create environmental hazards, they said. A better solution would be to spoil the pills in discarded coffee grounds or something else messy, to prevent people from pulling them out of the trash.
At this Saturday’s take-back day, people can either put the whole bottle in the box or dump the pills in themselves.
With the old prescription drugs found in his own medicine cabinet, Hartunian demonstrated dumping them in a box set up at the news conference.
“It’s as easy as that,” he said.
Numerous collection sites will be available around the Capital Region. A list can be found at DEA.gov.