The Ashe County Sheriff’s Department, alongside most of the state’s 100 counties, will participate in Operation Medicine Drop, sponsored by Safe Kids North Carolina.
From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursday, March 20, deputies will be at Ashe Services for Aging collecting expired prescriptions, preventing them from being used or getting into the hands of children.
“Right when you walk in, we will be there with a couple of tables,” said Phil Howell, detective with the Ashe County Sheriff’s Department. “We will have all kinds of poison control magnets and brochures they can take with them.”
Howell said the event is part of National Poison Prevention Week, which runs from Sunday, March 16 to Saturday, March 22.
Over the four years the week-long event has occurred, Operation Medicine Drop has retrieved and destroyed more than 52.8 million dosages throughout North Carolina. Howell said during these events, every pill is accounted for, so they can keep track of the medications as closely as possible.
“We even see what the pill looks like, find out what it is and put it into an (Microsoft) Excel spreadsheet,” Howell said. “We know what we have and what amount.”
But where do they go? the ACSO has a detailed process on how they handle the medications they receive.
For this event, the department will send the medications to the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation. For other medications they receive throughout the year, it’s stored away and eventually sent to Charlotte.
“We keep everything that is collected here in one location where it is locked in barrels,” Howell said. “In December, we take them to Charlotte to an incinerator. It’s a large-scale melting shop.”
Because of the chain of custody, Howell said, deputies have to accompany the medications when they are sent to the incinerator. In 2013, the department brought down four barrels, the most the department has collected.
Part of that has to do with the ACSO now able to allow people to anonymously bring in medications to their building.
Howell said last year they were involved with seven different events, but with the addition of a drug box in the Sheriff’s Office, they now take the collections year-round.
“With drug boxes, anybody can bring medications in and we don’t ask any questions,” he said. “They drop it into the box and then they can leave.”
Sheriff James Williams said anything involving pharmaceuticals can be brought in.
“What we have the most of is people that have folks who have recently passed away from cancer,” he said. “They have huge amounts of high scheduled (prescribed) narcotics and painkillers and their families don’t know what to do with it.”
Howell said the number of dosage units received at events has decreased drastically, since people are bring the medications to the drop box.
“The numbers in our events were starting to go downhill,” he said. “In the last event we held, we got 1,000 dosage units and we normally get between 20,000 and 40,000 during an event. It’s dwindled because everybody is bringing them here.”
Another reason to drop the medications off at the event or in the drug box located inside the Sheriff’s Office, is to prevent water contamination by people who may flush the medications or drop them in a sink.
While the drug box has not been advertised by the department, the prescriptions keep rolling in.
“All of the hospitals and small doctor’s offices know what we have put here and they have been referring everybody here,” Howell said. “That thing stays full out and we’re getting slammed. It hasn’t even been advertised.”
The event is done by the County of Ashe, the Ashe County Sheriff’s Department and the National Committee for the New River.
Wil Petty can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @WilPetty.