Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Clearing streets of prescription drugs: take back boxes becoming common in Historic District

Drug disposal bags from U.S. manufacturer Deterra are being distributed by the Williamsburg and James City County police. (Courtesy Deterra)
Drug disposal bags from U.S. manufacturer Deterra are being distributed by the Williamsburg and James City County police. (Courtesy Deterra)

As the opioid epidemic wreaks havoc on the lives of Virginians from Roanoke to Richmond down to Williamsburg, the crisis hasn’t escaped the eyes of healthcare providers, pharmacists, or emergency personnel.

Drug take back boxes and disposal bags are becoming more common in the Historic Triangle in an attempt to keep unused prescription drugs off the street.

Unused and out-of-date medications can be a threat to the health of babies, children and teenagers alike.

“When you see all the issues that’s going on with addiction, we want to be able to help with that,” said T. W. Taylor, owner of Williamsburg Drug Company and Professional Pharmacy. “It only makes sense you have an orderly way to do it.”

Getting prescription drugs off the street

After months of regulatory hurdles from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, Taylor’s two pharmacies installed drug take back boxes in November.

The pharmacies’ boxes accept prescription drugs and unused over-the-counter medicine, but not illicit schedule one drugs, needles, or inhalers, Taylor said.

In the end, the disposed of medicine is burned and destroyed, according to Taylor.

The DEA did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication. The DEA registration call center’s phone number repeatedly returned a busy signal.

At the nearby Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center, in November the hospital installed a drug take-back box.

“We are committed to doing everything we can to help get unused prescriptions and medications out of homes and off the streets safely,” said David Masterson, president of the Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center in a news release.

Anyone with unused prescription drugs can drop off the medicine Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to the release.

A coordinated effort

As the services have been rolled out to the public, local police are also taking a hard look at preventing prescription drugs from getting on the street.

Both the Williamsburg and James City County police departments are distributing drug disposal bags.

A drug take back box at the Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center. (Courtesy Sentara)
A drug take back box at the Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center. (Courtesy Sentara)

The bags neutralize and “deactivate” prescription medicines. The bags use activated carbon to make drugs unusable and insoluble, according to the manufacturer, Deterra.

The bags cost about $6 each and can deactivate as much as 45 pills, six ounces of fluids, or six medical patches, according to the manufacturer.

While the bags are not “ideal” for people looking to dispose of a lot of medicine, according to James City County Police spokeswoman Stephanie Williams, the bags can help people dispose of smaller quantities of medicine safely.

Both police departments received the bags from the Virginia Department of Health, according to Williams and Williamsburg Police Department spokesman Maj. Greg Riley.

“The Williamsburg Police Department is committed to assisting our community in disposing of unwanted and unused prescription medications in ways that are also safe for our environment,” Riley wrote in an email. “That’s why we’ve participated in and continue to participate in the DEA’s Drug Take Back events since their inception.”

To get a drug disposal bag, stop by the Williamsburg Police Department or the James City County Police Department.

Eventually, the two departments will run out of the bags, but if demand is high, the James City County and Williamsburg police have said they could look to get more, according to Williams and Williamsburg Police Department Officer Charlie Ericsson.

“We’d rather have the drugs off the street than have them in the wrong hands for sure,” Ericsson said.

While the bags may run out, the drug receptacles are set to become permanent fixtures in Williamsburg.

For Taylor, it’ll cost his businesses about $3,000 per disposal box each year, but it’s worth every penny he said.

“We did it because people in the community have been asking and they’ve always been trying to find a way to dispose of their prescription drugs,” Taylor said.

Updated 12/6/2017: Included information provided by Williamsburg Police Officer Charlie Ericsson.

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