Six years ago, on Oct. 3, 2009, a broad coalition of community partners came together to create the first ever prescription drug take-back day in the High Country. Since that first event a total of 12 “Operation Medicine Cabinet” events have been held every May and October as part of the Watauga County household hazardous waste day with a total of over 1.5 million pills disposed of properly.
The disposal of prescription drugs has long been a dilemma, and many medicine cabinets contain unused or outdated medications. Among teenagers, the fastest growing illegal drug use is the abuse of prescription drugs. The most common method of obtaining prescription drugs is by raiding the medicine cabinet of a friend or family, then consuming the pills or selling them.
“From a law enforcement perspective, one of our most important jobs is to work diligently and proactively to prevent drug abuse,” said Watauga County Sheriff Len D. Hagaman. “By hosting an amnesty day that allows the public to turn in any kind of unused or unwanted medications, hopefully, we will keep those drugs off the street and out of the hands of children.”
Another problem with outdated or unused prescription drugs is that people dispose of them improperly by flushing them down the toilet. If their home is connected to a local waste water treatment facility, then the drugs wind up in either the Watauga River or New River where they can negatively affect aquatic organisms. If the homes have septic tanks, the drugs leach into the soils and contaminate groundwater that can be taken up by well pumps.
“It has been very rewarding to see how enthusiastically people have united to support Operation Medicine Cabinet,” said Dick and Joan Hearn of the Watauga River Partners. If you can’t make it out to Operation Medicine Cabinet you can drop off unused medicines any day of the year at the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office or the Town of Boone Police Department, thanks to funding from Project Lazarus.