In December of 2009, three law enforcement agencies - the Boise and Garden City police departments, along with the Ada County Sheriff's Office - joined forces to create a program for folks in the Treasure Valley looking to dispose of old and used medications. Since the program was initiated more than eight months ago, the three agencies report that they have taken in more than 900 pounds of unwanted prescriptions medicines. The city of Meridian, which started its own program only a few months earlier, has taken in 800 pounds since the fall of 2009.
The program was initiated to give citizens a proper outlet for medications, rather than storing them at home, where children may get into them or flushing them down the toilet, where they would get into water supplies. The collection program also took aim at preventing unnecessary visits to emergency rooms. At the start of the program, the three agencies reported that nearly 500,000 people across the United States were forced to go to a hospital due to misuse of prescription drugs.
Officials are hoping the program will cut down on prescription drug abuse by minors. Elisha Figeroa, the community services coordinator for the Meridian Police Department, says that “prescriptions drugs are now the drugs of choice for 12-13 year olds.” The Office of National Drug Control Policy also reports that while marijuana use is still the most commonly abused drug in the country, prescription drugs aren’t far behind.
As for illicit drugs, neither Figeroa nor Lynn Hightower, spokesman for the Boise Police Department, reports taking in any illegal drugs, like marijuana or cocaine. Hightower told IdahoReporter.com in an e-mail that her agency doesn't conduct thorough searches of drugs dropped off at collection points. "Agencies do not go through the items collected for numerous reasons, including medical privacy, safety and risk of injury," wrote Hightower. Though the agencies have not reported taking in any illegal drugs, officials know it could happen. “There are no questions asked when the drugs are dropped off” said Figeroa in a prior interview. “We have no way to know who dropped it off.”
Technicians who do see some of the collected medications are finding something else, however. "They do notice, from looking at what's on top of the box at collection time, a lot of pills in zip-lock baggies, and what appear to be a lot of over-the-counter meds in addition to prescriptions," Hightower said. All collected medications are sent to the Idaho State Police (ISP), which is statutorily charged with destroying them. ISP sends all drugs to a plant in Utah for incineration.
Hightower said the program is not costing the agencies additional tax dollars, except for labor costs associated with collection duties at the three drop off points. The Public Works Department for the city of Boise funded the collection bins, as well as promotional materials for the program. Calls to that department about the costs of the program have gone unreturned.