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'Take it to the Box' program launched

Solid Waste superintendent Vern Massie disposes of a small quantity of the pills that were left at the transfer station earlier in the day.(Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

A medication disposal program began Wednesday in Hubbard County to collect unused or expired pills.

Called "Take it to the Box," the program aims to get dangerous medications out of home medicine cabinets and possibly out of the wrong users' hands.

The collection point is a locked metal box at the Hubbard County Sheriff's Department at 301 Court Avenue in Park Rapids.

Drugs, both prescription and over the counter medications, are one of the most sought-after items targeted in break-ins, said program instigator Sara Bowles.

The county's chemical dependency coordinator enlisted pharmacists, law enforcement personnel, medical professionals and solid waste supervisor Vern Massie in the effort to keep the pills out of the waste stream where they can cause environmental harm to soil and groundwater and physical harm to the humans who may misuse or abuse medications that belong to others.

Abuse of prescription medications is a trend growing alarmingly, Bowles said, when youths have access to a parent or grandparent's medicine cabinet. Pills such as oxycodone are sold on the street for prices as high as $20 apiece.

"They're everywhere," Massie said. The transfer stations see the pills in garbage, in recycling canisters and just dropped off for disposal.

As an example Massie brought a box full of medications one family had cleared out of the house for disposal Wednesday.

"Man that's some expensive medications," Bowles said, taking a quick inventory of the contents. "It's sad that people could use this medication."

But she added that there is "some pretty potentially dangerous stuff" in the box. Under current Minnesota law, unused medications cannot be donated to those in need.

Pharmacist Jackie Rehm said prescriptions would now come with a small yellow attachment advising people of the program.

"We hope pharmacists will staple these to each prescription bag," she said, inspecting one of the small tablets that will be distributed to all pharmacies.

Signs and handouts about the program will be disseminated throughout the county, at the clinic, hospital, pharmacies and the transfer stations.

Hospice nurses will be advised and enlisted to assist the collections.

Eventually Bowles hopes to organize pickup days in the smaller towns that aren't close to Park Rapids for the convenience of the residents in outlying areas.

It is a program mired in red tape and strict procedures.

Bowles said the Sheriff's Department had to obtain a hazardous waste license just to handle the drugs.

Law enforcement will periodically empty the drop box, inventory the contents and store them in the sheriff's evidence room.

When a carload has been amassed, a deputy will ferry the inventoried contents to an incinerator in Fosston and attest to their destruction.

The program will be monitored by the Pollution Control Agency, so strict records must be kept, Bowles said.

Program coordinators are trying to stress the importance of proper disposal.

"If it goes into a garbage bag we don't see it," Massie said.

But those bagged up pills could eventually be problematic.

"Environmentally we want to control what goes into our groundwater," Rehm said.

Depending on the medications, some can become more diluted with age. Others, however, have a tendency to become more concentrated. Either could be dangerous, Bowles said.

Bowles said the program will eventually be turned over to the Hubbard County Sheriff's department to oversee.

She praised outgoing sheriff Frank Homer and chief deputy Jerry Tatro for their support in making the program a success.

A Park Rapids business called Leading Edge, crafted the receptacle using measurements supplied by Massie and donated it to the program.

Local printers have donated time and costs to print the information sheets and labels that will be attached to prescriptions.

And, in an amnesty type of program, illegal drugs such as marijuana or cocaine can be bagged and dropped off.

No questions asked.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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