The MedReturn boxes were provided for free to police departments who submitted successful grant applications.
Gary Tennis, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, said that the governor’s initiative focuses on ensuring safe and appropriate access to prescription medications. “Our goal in creating the program is to provide educational opportunities for the public, while reducing drug abuse and dependency,” Tennis said.
Tuesday's news conference also was attended by Ken Martz, Director of the Bureau of Treatment, Prevention and Intervention, Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs; Donna Zimmerman, executive director of Lehigh County Aging and Adult Services; Darbe George, Administrator of Drug and Alcohol in Lehigh County; Jim Carlisle, manager of injury prevention and emergency preparedness for the Allentown Health Bureau; and police chiefs of departments where the boxes have been installed.
During the seventh National Take Back Day event on Oct. 26, Lehigh County residents disposed of a record amount of 2,014 pounds of drugs at 17 sites that included police departments, grocery stores, pharmacies and malls.
In Lehigh County, the total collected during seven Take Back Days since 2010 is 6,840 pounds, or nearly 3 ½ tons. After the collections, DEA personnel had picked up the boxes of medications at all sites and had taken them to an incinerator where they were burned.
Martin said that the nature of the prescription drug abuse problem in Lehigh County has become more defined over the last several years.
Coroner Scott M. Grim has compiled statistics regarding prescription drug overdoses.
As of June 30, there were 18 deaths ruled accidents and two determined to be suicides.
“Accidents” includes decedents who had overdosed on anti-depressants, pain-killers, other prescription drugs and heroin and, many times, a combination of drugs.
These cases include people who have gotten out of rehabilitation facilities and relapsed.
Often times, when they resume drug use after their systems have been clean, they use the same amount of heroin or prescription drugs as they did in the past, and it leads to overdoses, according to Grim.
In 2012, there were 66 deaths that were ruled accidents, 11 suicides and two undetermined.
In 2011, there were 59 accidents, nine suicides and two undetermined.
The cases ruled suicides are ones in which there was an intentional drug overdose. This is determined by the level of drugs in their system, a history of mental illness, the finding of a suicide note or other attempts at suicide in the past.
The Lehigh County Regional Intelligence and Investigation Center analyzed crime statistics from Jan. 1, 2010, to Sept. 1, 2013, to determine how many crimes were related to prescription drug use and abuse. A sampling determined that there were 162 crimes or police incidents in that category, and that number does not even include Allentown, whose officer reports of such incidents are not searchable.
Burglary, drug investigations, fraud and theft topped the list of crimes in which prescription drugs were involved.
Martin said that in addition to enhancing public safety and promoting the health of county residents, the boxes help to reduce environmental risks because they give residents an alternative to discarding medications in landfills or in drains where they can end up in the water supply.
The Lehigh County District Attorney’s Office included in its grant application letters of support from police chiefs, Lehigh County Drug and Alcohol Abuse Services, the Allentown Health Bureau, Lehigh County Aging and Adult Services, Lehigh County TRIAD, Project Lifesaver in Lehigh County, and Treatment Trends, Inc.