HAINES CITY – Early on Saturday afternoon, a woman drove up in front of the Haines City Police Station, where Officer Kendrick Frazier was standing, and handed him a large Burger King bag.
It was not, however, filled with lunch or a meal. Instead, the bag was filled with drugs.
“No problem,” Officer Frazier said. “We’ll take whatever you’ve got. We’ll take everything.”
On Saturday, the police departments throughout Polk County participated in a program called Purge Your Pills. For five hours, the law enforcement agencies allowed local residents to stop by and drop off any unwanted medications or prescription drugs they had — no questions asked.
The idea was to rid people’s homes of any unwanted human or pet medications, by allowing the police departments to dispose of them instead.
By afternoon, not long before the department stopped accepting the pills and other drugs, Officers Frazier and Isaac Jackson had collected quite a bit.
“Right now, we’re getting a variety of pills, everything from over the counter pills to prescription medications,” Jackson said. “We’re getting the Oxicontins and those pills.”
Once they got the word out about this program, more than a few residents responded, Frazier noted.
“You’d be surprised at the size of the bags that people bring here,” Frazier said. “When people get outside and start running their errands, that’s when we get more people coming by.”
This Go Green initiative, sponsored by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Take Back Initiative, has both an environmentally-friendly component, and a desire to keep those drugs out of the hands of people not legally prescribed to take the pills, including children.
“The DEA sponsors these twice a year,’’ said Art Bodenheimer, chief of the Lake Alfred Police Department.
As Bodenheimer noted, they do not want residents who have unused and unwanted prescription pills in their medicine cabinet to either flush them down the toilet, or toss them out with their garbage. Either method poses a threat to the environment, he noted.
“Flushing down the toilet means it’s going back into your water system, and it goes into the soil,” Bodenheimer said. “And if it goes to the landfill, all those pills can get into the soil as well. It’s going to come back to the soil one way or another.”
It’s also risky to put those pills in with household garbage, he said, because someone could find the pills – and take them.
“The main thing about throwing it in the trash is other people can get it as well,” he said.
That can be especially true for children, said Tom Evans, who works with the InnerAct Aliance. Formerly the Drug Prevention Resource Center, this agency serves as the coalition behind StandUpPolk – an adult-based anti-drug effort – and UthMpact, a youth-based one. Both provide information, activities and meeting dates that are employed to encourage Polk County residents to take a stand against drugs.
“I’m typically in the schools teaching drug prevention,” Evans said, adding that legally prescribed medications have become a bigger concern than illegal ones in recent years.
“Before, you had your gateway drugs like alcohol and marijuana and cigarettes that kids used,” he said. “Now prescription drugs are right up there with that. Kids are taking their parents’ or their grandparents’ medications right out of the cabinet and using them. They’re going over to grandpa’s house and stealing their medications.”
That’s one of the reasons why the local police departments joined forced with the DEA and the InnerAct Alliance to sponsor Purge Your Pills, Bodenheimer said.
“We’ve already got one solid bag filled with pills in the last hour,” he said late morning on Saturday. “It’s got all kinds of things in it, from cough syrup to syringes to any type of medication you can think of.”
Florida has developed an unwanted reputation in recent years for “pill mills” – or offices that fill doctor’s prescriptions, often illegally, for medications like Oxycontin and Oxycodone, pain medications that are highly addictive. Several area counties, including Orange, have imposed a moratorium on new pill mills as a result.
This has demonstrated, Bodenheimer said, that legally prescribed pills can be as much of a problem as illegal ones if they end up in the wrong hands.
“The one thing that has really contributed to a lot of problems in Florida is the pill mills,” he said. “The state’s crack down is starting to help, but it’s still a concern.”
For more information about how to safely dispose of unwanted prescription medications, call the StandUp Polk Coalition at 863-802-0777.