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Advocates: Prescription drug-return program having tons of success

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PHOENIX – When someone in Yavapai, Pinal, Graham or Greenlee counties wants to dispose of unused prescription drugs, he or she can dump them in boxes at many police and fire stations.

Advocates say the state pilot program, launched last year, has worked – to the tune of three tons of prescription drugs, roughly 6 million pills in all, according to the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission.

Kathy Grimes, coordinator for the Graham County Substance Abuse Coalition, said the MedReturn boxes used there are addressing the problem of prescription drugs winding up in the hands of youths.

“They are providing people with the opportunity to dispose of them properly,” she said. “They are keeping them out of the wrong hands for the wrong purpose.”

The effort is part of Arizona’s Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse Initiative, which launched in June 2012 in the four counties.

The Criminal Justice Commission and the Governor’s Office for Children, Youth and Families developed the program in partnership with agencies and groups including the Arizona Department of Health Services, Arizona State Board of Pharmacy and DrugFreeAZ.

The 2012 Arizona Youth Survey found that 11.l percent of kids had abused prescription drugs by eighth grade, 18.8 percent by 10th grade and 23.9 percent by 12th grade.

There are 34 prescription drug return boxes across the four counties.

Once a month, the drugs are removed in Pinal, Graham and Greenlee counties and given to the Drug Enforcement Administration, which destroys them. Yavapai County uses its own incinerators for disposal.

Yavapai, with a prescription drug program predating the state’s, was the first county to offer a MedReturn box, adding one to Cottonwood’s police station in 2010.

“The drop boxes are definitely working,” said Merilee Fowler, executive director of MATFORCE, a Yavapai County substance abuse coalition. “We need to continue to promote them as much as possible so that more people are utilizing them.”

The boxes aren’t limited to the pilot counties. Sierra Vista’s fire and police stations have them, for example, as do police stations in Mesa.

The Apache Junction Fire Department added MedReturn boxes to two stations in June because of success elsewhere in Pinal County, Deputy Chief Dave Montgomery said.

“It’s a pretty significant risk that we are hoping to help diminish by having that resource there for people to drop off their prescription drugs,” he said.

Grimes said officials found that events encouraging Graham County residents to turn over prescription drugs weren’t as effective as they could be because they occurred only twice a year.

“People were waiting six months to dump off drugs,” she said. “We are trying to make them more available. We’ve seen a huge difference in people becoming more aware about prescription drugs.”