Dispose of drugs properly

Awareness is a first step to solving a problem; follow-through is essential.

Last week, we wrote about a Guilderland High School forum on opioid addiction. We commend the school for continuing to draw attention to the ever-growing problem and we especially commend the speakers who had the courage to share their stories.

Andrew McKenna told of how he went from being a federal prosecutor to being a federal prisoner. He injured his back during Marine Corps training and became addicted to the painkillers that were prescribed to help him. He lost his job, his family, and his freedom to his heroin addiction.

The same day as the high school forum, Albany County announced a new drug take-back program, which we applaud. Patients can put their unused prescription drugs to their pharmacy in an envelope certified by the national Drug Enforcement Administration; the envelopes are available at one of three pharmacies in the county — Crestwood in Albany, Four Corners in Delmar, and Marra’s in Cohoes.

Getting drugs out of homes cuts down on chances for abuse.

“Data from the  National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) show that nearly one-third of people aged 12 and over who used drugs for the first time in 2009 began by using a prescription drug non-medically. The same survey found that over 70 percent of people who abused prescription pain relievers got them from friends or relatives, while approximately 5 percent got them from a drug dealer or from the Internet,” according to “Epidemic: Response to America's Prescription Drug Abuse Crisis,” a publication of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

In other words, the vast majority of people who get hooked start with prescription drugs, not through dealers or the internet.

The same publication cited a “Monitoring the Future” study, the largest survey of drug use among young Americans, which showed that prescription drugs are the second most-abused category of drugs after marijuana.

So, getting unused drugs out of the house is a good move. Locally, drug take-back days have been successful, and we encourage more.

The number of heroin overdoses has increased over the past five or six years right here in Guilderland, Police chief Carol Lawlor told our reporter H. Rose Schneider. She has something wise to say: In addition to police cutting off supplies by arresting dealers and saving lives by using naloxone when there are overdoses, the community needs resources such as rehab centers and insurance coverage for treatment.

“People can’t just stop using heroin because they want to,” said Guilderland’s police chief.

We need to work to provide these resources.

Another part of the problem is that doctors are issuing more prescriptions for opioid pain relievers. From 1997 to 2007, the milligram-per-person use of prescription opioids in the United States increased 402 percent, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy publication. “Further,” it said, “opiate overdoses, once almost always due to heroin use, are now increasingly due to abuse of prescription painkillers.”

The natural world is hurting, too, from uniformed disposal of drugs. The recommended method used to be to flush unused prescription drugs down the drain. No more.

In 1999 and 2000, the United States Geological Survey conducted a nationwide study that found low levels of drugs, including antibiotics, steroids, contraceptives, and hormones in 80 percent of the rivers and streams tested.

Many studies since have confirmed this growing problem, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, which found fish and other aquatic life is affected by the pharmaceuticals in the state’s waters.

Male fish can be feminized, producing eggs, when exposed to hormones, for example, from the estrogen in birth-control pills, and other pharmaceuticals such as antidepressants and beta-blockers reduce fertility or affect spawning in certain aquatic organisms, according to a new DEC policy, issued last week. Adverse effects are caused by even expired pharmaceuticals, the new policy says.

Also, the DEC says, long-term exposure to low levels of antibiotics might result in the evolution of, or selection for, drug-resistant microbes and bacteria.

The DEC worked with the state’s Department of Health and the federal DEA in developing the guidelines.

We echo the DEC’s strong encouragement that all pharmacies become authorized collectors. An authorized collector voluntarily manages pharmaceutical mail-back programs or maintains collection receptacles.

This move would be good for business, as it serves customers, and good for health — of people and of the environment. Now, as members of the public, we have to follow through and dispose of our unused drugs properly.


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