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New drop-off boxes available in Pioneer Valley to help keep drugs away from children and out of landfills, streams

— People with unwanted or expired medications at home can now safely dispose of them 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Northwestern district attorney’s office announced Wednesday that 15 police departments throughout Hampshire and Franklin counties have new, permanent drop-off boxes for old medications. The boxes costs $700 each and were sponsored by the Northampton Prevention Coalition and state Department of Public Health Bureau of Substance Abuse Prevention, District Attorney David E. Sullivan said.

Sullivan said the boxes will help keep medications out of the hands of children and out of landfills and the water supply.

Sullivan said his office’s four drug take-back days were very successful, collecting about 7,000 pounds of unwanted meds.

Those collections weren’t always convenient for people to participate in, Sullivan said. The boxes solve that problem by being accessible around the clock.

At a brief press conference Wednesday, Sullivan said getting unneeded medications out of homes and properly disposed of is an urgent public health and environmental issue.

For children as young as 12, prescription medications are the drug of choice for abuse, Sullivan said. One in seven children 12 and over have used medications solely for the purpose of getting high, he said.

He also noted that 70 percent of those who abuse prescription medications get them illegally, usually from family or friends.

The collection boxes also reduce the environmental impact caused by medications being dumped into landfills or flushed and potentially contaminating streams and rivers, Sullivan said.

According to information provided by the district attorney’s office, about 80 percent of American streams contain small amounts of antibiotics, and marine life has shown adverse effects from medicine in the water.

Removing unneeded medications from the homes of senior citizens can help to prevent accidental overdoses or other medication errors, Sullivan said.

The metal collection box in the Northampton Police Department building stands about 4½ feet tall and is bolted to the floor to prevent someone from trying to remove it or access its contents.

The foyer where the box is located is accessible 24 hours a day and is monitored by video surveillance.

Sullivan said county sheriff’s departments will empty the boxes about once a month and bring the contents to Covanta Energy in Agawam where they will be incinerated at no charge.

Sullivan said all drop-offs will remain confidential. People can remove the labels from prescription bottles, but it’s not required.

Prescription and non-prescription drugs, vitamins and veterinary medications are accepted at the drop-offs.

“Everything from aspirin to oxycodone,” Sullivan said.

Northampton Police Chief Russell P. Sienkiewicz stressed the boxes are not a place to drop off needles, syringes or other “sharps.”

Liquid medications, IV equipment and chemotherapy drugs are also not accepted, he said. Local departments of health can provide information how to dispose of those items, according to the district attorney’s office.

Fourteen other communities will have drop-off boxes: Amherst, Athol, Belchertown, Erving, Easthampton, Deerfield, Granby, Greenfield, Hadley, Montague, Orange, South Hadley, Sunderland and Ware.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@gazettenet.com.

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