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Council approves drop box for prescription pills

Austin residents will soon have a new place to dispose of old prescription pills, which should be a plus for the environment as well a measure against prescription medication abuse.

City Council on Monday approved a roughly $5,000 per year program that will provide a secure pill “drop box” in the lobby of the Law Enforcement Center. As part of the cost, the city will also receive professional removal and disposal services.

The city itself is putting up $2,500 for the new program, while the remaining costs are being covered by the Austin Police Officer Association, money seized during various drug raids, and the county attorney’s office.

The effort to get the drop box installed was led by the Austin Area Drug Taskforce. Former mayor and current taskforce member Bonnie Rietz said the program will address the final piece of a “move, watch and dispose” initiative regarding extra prescription pills.

“The third part has always been very difficult,” she said.

That difficulty has largely stemmed from a lack of places that can take the drugs.

Det. David McKichan, who is assigned to local drug investigations, said previously that the box and removal service would fill a big need because currently his department has virtually no way to take old prescription pills off people’s hands.

“One of the first questions I get is, ‘What can I do with (the pills)? Can I bring it to the (Law Enforcement Center)?’ ” McKichan said at an April 19 council meeting. “Right now, the answer is ‘no.’ ”

With no where to dispose of pills, many residents turn to simply throwing them away or flushing them down a toilet, both of which are potential environmental hazards.

But extra pills also often end up in the wrong hands.

McKichan said he’s seen a big uptick locally in cases of prescription pill abuse, making the need that much more acute. And Austin certainly isn’t alone — nationally, the trend is growing, particularly among young adults. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health’s Substance Abuse and Mental Services Administration reports that prescription pill abuse trails only marijuana abuse among teenage drug users, with that gap quickly shrinking.

McKichan and Rietz both said that preventing Austin youth from abusing prescription pills is a big goal, and giving parents an easy way to dispose of old medications that may be sitting in a drawer will go a long way toward doing exactly that.

“It’s just another drug of abuse,” McKichan said. “We’re trying to eliminate the sources.”

Eventually, the program could get more local governments involved, which could reduce overall costs. The idea originally came to Austin by way of a Chisago County deputy, and officials in both Dodge and Olmsted counties have approached the taskforce about joining the effort.

Austin Det. Brian Krueger, who is also on the taskforce, said during that April 19 meeting that getting more people involved could also spur construction of a Minnesota-based drug incinerator — currently, the nearest approved facility is located in Illinois. Krueger said getting widespread involvement would reduce transportation costs in the short-term, but he said costs would obviously be reduced further if it was a shorter commute to dispose of drugs.

Rietz said she is looking to have the program up and running locally by mid-May.