WESTFIELD, Mass. (WESTFIELD STATE) – City residents will no longer have to wait for the semi-annual ‘drug take back’ days to dispose of unneeded medications with the installation of a collection container in the police department lobby.
Formerly, city police participated in a nationwide program supported by the Drug Enforcement Administration which allowed persons to dispose of unwanted prescription drugs with no questions asked at participating police stations but that solution has drawbacks that are eliminated by the new option.
Joe Rouse, the city’s director of public health, said recently that his department has a direct interest in helping residents safely dispose of controlled drugs as the common alternatives are potentially hazardous to the public health.
He said that if a safe alternative is not available to the public, the usual options are either to flush unwanted drugs or include them with household trash.
Rouse said that those alternatives “are not technically prohibited but (they’re) very much frowned on” because, he said they are “not very environmentally responsible.”
He explained that the result of both options eventually allows the dumped drugs to work their way into the water supply where they can be a threat to public health.
Because of these concerns, Rouse said that the health department purchased a receptacle, which looks a lot like a fortified mail collection box, and asked Police Chief John Camerota to install it in the police department lobby.
Rouse explained that the drug collection boxes are mandated to be located in police lobbies where they can be available at all times yet be monitored to prevent misuse.
Camerota said he was happy to cooperate with the health department as the ‘drug take back’ days had limited the times residents could dispose of drugs and had cost the department for police overtime to monitor the disposals.
“It saves us money in the long run and it provides a great service to the community,” he said.
He also said that prompt disposal of unneeded drugs keeps them out of medicine cabinets where family members or visitors might, inadvertently or intentionally, misuse drugs a resident no longer needs.
A similar collection box has been in the lobby of the Southwick police department for more than a year, Southwick Chief David Ricardi said.
He called the program “awesome” and said that it is much better than the collection days.
He pointed out that the police department is always open so the disposal option is always available.
“I believe they (the public) utilize it every day so “they can get rid of it (unwanted drugs) right away,” he said.
Otherwise, he said, “they’re leaving it (drugs) around the house and who knows who’s getting into it.”
Another big benefit of the box to the department, he said, is “We don’t have to do anything but empty it.”
He said that the box is emptied about once a month and the dumped drugs are incinerated by the operator of the incinerator at Springfield’s Bondi’s Island in Agawam and West Springfield, Covanta Holding Corporation.
Rouse said that Covanta will incinerate the drugs collected from Westfield, too, at no charge, as long as the drugs are delivered by a uniformed officer in a marked police cruiser.
The receptacles are clearly marked to indicate what may and may not be disposed of in the boxes and, Ricardi said, although the instructions are not always scrupulously followed, “we know how to deal with it” when unacceptable items are dumped.
The boxes list as unacceptable sharps (hypodermic needles, lancets, etc.), thermometers, aerosols, inhalers, hydrogen peroxide, drugs from businesses or clinics, ointments, liquids and lotions.