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Legal, but lethal: Prescription abuse prompts drug take-back efforts in Valley

Drug overdose and poisoning are two very real threats that most people look at every morning. The danger sits in their medicine cabinets, in the form of old, unused medicines, easily accessible to children and very difficult to secure.

These drugs, both prescription and non-prescription, account for about half of child poisoning deaths in a year. In 2009, people made more than 17,000 calls to the Washington Poison Center for children under age 6 who consumed drugs from the medicine cabinet; 32 percent of child poisoning deaths were caused by prescription medicines, and 26 percent were caused by over-the-counter drugs.

Getting rid of these drugs could reduce the risk of accidental poisionings, but with the exception of Saturday’s annual National Drug Take-Back Days, people have very few options for disposing of medicines safely. Most pharmacies will not take drugs back, and it’s not only dangerous but also illegal in some counties such as Snohomish, to throw the medicine into the trash.

Then there are the intentional abuses of medicines, which Kristy Trione, executive director of the Snoqualmie Valley Community Network, is really concerned about.

While there is still little information on how, when, where and why young people are using prescription drugs that aren’t their own, one of the main reasons seems to be entertainment.

“They have these things called Skittles parties, where everyone just brings what they find in the medicine cabinet,” Trione said. “Kids think it’s safe, because it’s prescribed by a doctor.”

The second reason she’s concerned is that these drugs can be “a lethal means to suicide,” and she knows of at least one such attempt in the Valley. In that case, the student received help in time.

North Bend Police Chief Mark Toner says he hasn’t personally seen the problem in the Valley, yet.

“In my previous position with the Sheriff’s Office, when I worked with deaths and suicides... we did see them all over the place, all the time,” he said.

Washington State has one of the highest teen prescription abuse rates in the nation, at 12 percent. In the Community Network’s annual Healthy Youth Survey, they found that about 16 percent of high school seniors surveyed had used prescription pain killers that weren’t theirs in the previous 30 days, and about 12 percent of sophomores had.

“Families need to be locking up these dangerous drugs,” Trione said.

Getting rid of the drugs is difficult, even for the patients who are legally authorized to use them. Trione recalled picking up a prescription for her husband in the hospital pharmacy, and being unable to return it when her husband asked for a different medicine.

“Nobody can legally receive drugs, except for the patient and law enforcement,” Toner explained, “and we had to be authorized by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) to do it.”

So last year, Trione worked with Paula Mathias and Leadership Eastside, to initiate a drug take-back program with police agencies in Snoqualmie and North Bend. The DEA initiated a formal take-back event this year, but both North Bend and Snoqualmie have been accepting controlled substances at their police station drop boxes for the past year and a half.

“We’re just supposed to take scheduled drugs, because you can’t get rid of those elsewhere,” Toner said, but he’s found things as innocuous as antacids in the drop box when he clears it out. “I purposely don’t look. If it’s a bottle of Pepto Bismol, I can’t help but notice,” he said.

From the drop boxes, and from the drug take-back sites operating this Saturday, the drugs are securely transported to a DEA office in Seattle, where they are incinerated.

Participants are encouraged to remove their prescription labels, blacken the names on the bottles, or bring the drugs in other disposable containers.

Drop boxes are at the North Bend Police Station, 550 Boalch Ave. N.W., and the Snoqualmie Police Station, 34825 Southeast Douglas St. On Saturday, April 30, police will accept drugs at Sno Falls Credit Union at 9025 Meadowbrook Way S.E. in Snoqualmie and at the North Bend Park and Ride located between East McClellan Street and East Park Street. The Carnation-Duvall Police Station will also take drugs at the police station, 26225 NE Stephens St., Duvall.

As far as Trione is concerned, the national event is a start, but “We need a state program,” she says, and she is lobbying for a plan requiring pharmaceutical companies to pay the costs of returning prescriptions.

For more information on National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, visit www.dea.gov.

For information on the Snoqualmie Valley Community Network, visit http://snoqualmievalleycommunitynetwork.org.

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