A popular drug takeback program will continue operating in Wisconsin, even though the federal Drug Enforcement Agency has ended support for the effort.
Newly-elected Attorney General Brad Schimel says the highly successful program is too important to let die. “In Wisconsin, we collected over 34,000 pounds of unused prescriptions that could be recycled safely instead of ending up flushed down the toilet or in the garbage. Those end up in our water table, so this is a very important program, and it also takes these drugs out of circulation so they can’t be diverted.”
Schimel says local police, sheriff’s deputies, along with public health officials, solid waste operators, and wastewater treatment experts all urged him to find a way to save the program. “We’ve been working on this. Law enforcement has had my ear on this for months already. I’ve recognized this is a big deal. It’s just taken us a little time to get the logistics worked out. The Covanta incinerator has entered into an agreement with us. They’re going to destroy these for free, and the State Division of Criminal Investigation, which is a part of DOJ (Department of Justice), we will take the lead on making sure they get safely down there.”
Once the unwanted prescriptions are collected, Schimel says his agency will take care of transporting them to an incinerator in Indianapolis, Indiana. “We’re going to have to get these boxed up. They’re going to have to be put on pallets, shrink wrapped, those are all requirements for how we get them there, and we’ve got to get them there with a law enforcement escort. You would not want the contents of these trucks falling into the wrong hands.”
Moving a semi truck or two of pills is expensive, but Schimel says it’s worth the cost. “We just had to work out finding how we were going to take care of the cost, and we found a way to do it by just re-prioritizing some things.”
Many communities have anonymous drop boxes for unwanted prescriptions at police departments. Schimel is hoping more departments install those now that they know the program will continue and they have a proper place to send the drugs. “These med return units are kind of like an M1 Abrams tank version of a mailbox. They’re just very secure mailboxes. Things go in, and you have to have the key to get them out.”
Schimel says prescription pain killers left in homes are often how people get hooked on opiates, which can lead to heroin use when the pills run out. He says it’s important to get the unnecessary drugs out of homes in a safe manner.
The first collection day for the renewed Drug Take Back program will be in May.