County backs legal drug disposal program

Published 7:24 am Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Law enforcement officials will soon have help fighting a growing drug problem: legal drugs.

The Southeast Minnesota Narcotics and Gang Task Force has been targeting prescription drug abuse, but Mower County Attorney Kristen Nelsen is looking to reduce the number of legal drugs available in the county.

“Prescription drug abuse is becoming a huge issue,” Nelsen told the board. “I urge you to think about your own medicine cabinets and what’s in there and what probably shouldn’t be.”

The Mower County Board of Commissioners approved Nelsen’s request to start an initiative to dispose of legal drugs. A drop box would be installed in the law enforcement center where people can throw away prescription pills.

The problem is that many people are prescribed pills but don’t use all of them, and often just leave them in their homes. This creates a large supply of legal drugs waiting with few options for disposal.

The task force has the “Move, Watch, Dispose” campaign to educate about abuse of legal drugs, but Nelsen said the final step is the most difficult part. Prescription drugs can’t legally be flushed down the toilet or washed down the sink for fear that the drugs will cycle back through to water sources.

And, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency no longer allows law enforcement agencies to incinerate prescription drugs, making it virtually impossible to dispose of prescription drugs in Minnesota, Nelsen said.

“We have prescription drugs that have been building up down here because we don’t have a way to dispose,” Nelsen said.

For example, Nelsen said terminally ill patients are given a large number of drugs, and the family has little means to legally throw away such medications.

Chisago County has a similar program in place to dispose of legal drugs, and Nelsen said they’ve already collected about 2,000 pounds of drugs. Controlled substances like meth and cocaine only accounted for about 5 percent of that, Nelsen said.

Nelsen said she plans to install the drop box in the LEC sometime this summer. The drop box would be similar to a library or movie drop box, so the drugs would be in a secure location.

“With our aging population and the amount of prescription drugs that go out, we could end up with a lot,” she said.

The program would operate through the Sheriff’s Department, and staff would then store the pills in a bin in the evidence room until a contractor — likely from Illinois or Indiana — could come to dispose of the pills and medicines.

The company can’t dispose of illegal drugs, because only law enforcement officials can dispose items like cocaine and heroin.

Mower County may team with other counties to share the costs of the disposing of the drugs.

Nelsen didn’t ask the county for additional funding for the program. She plans to contribute $1,000 from the county attorney’s forfeiture fund to jump start the initiative.

“It’s what those funds were intended for,” she said. “It will reduce our case load. Quite frankly, it may save a life or two. These drugs are in the schools. These prescription drugs are all over town. Every drug we get is one less that can go out there.”

The county already has prescription drugs stored in the county’s evidence room. Nelsen said she hopes the MPCA will give Minnesotans means to dispose of prescription pills. Legislation has also been discussed to require pharmaceutical companies to shoulder part of the responsibility of disposing of legal medications.