Prescription drug drop-off scheduled to help keep painkillers off the streets
Dale Kasprzyk, resident agent in charge at the Buffalo branch of the DEA, said that prescription drug addiction is one of the largest and fastest-growing concerns both in Western New York and nationwide.
“It’s become almost an epidemic. Overdosing on prescription drugs is the leading cause of death among young people now,” said Kasprzyk. “What we’re seeing is that teens will begin to use these drugs and transition into heroin, which is essentially a stronger version of these drugs.”
Ron Tritto, executive director of Kids Escaping Drugs, said that prescription drugs are now common “gateway drugs” and that a large percentage of the residents at the organization’s residential treatment programs, Renaissance House, Stepping Stones and Promise House, have used prescription drugs and later transitioned into opiates. While all of the residents, who average 16 years old, have experimented with alcohol and marijuana, Tritto said that more than 70 percent have also used prescription medications.
“They’re very accessible in the community and very financially affordable, which leads to an addiction. We need to raise the collective awareness. These medications are available to everybody and there’s this perception that medicines are good, drugs are bad. Since these things are prescribed by doctors, people think they’re OK,” Tritto explained.
“The risk is [that] the dependency rate on these drugs is very high. You can become dependent within a matter of weeks. It takes over [the teens’] minds and all they can focus on is getting more drugs. They often don’t know how to get off them or where to turn and they start needing more and more to get to that high because their tolerance increases so quickly. There are more accidental overdoses on prescription drugs than any other, for that reason,” he said.
Kasprzyk said that the purpose of the drug drop-off day is two-fold: to give people the chance to get rid of their prescriptions in a safe, secure, anonymous way and to raise community awareness about the dangers of these substances.
“A lot of people get a prescription for painkillers and use maybe one or two of them and then they just leave the rest around the house because they don’t know what to do with it or they want it around just in case they need it again later,” he explained. “They don’t want to throw it away because they don’t want the garbage men to get it and they don’t want to flush it because it’ll get in the water supply, but they don’t know what else to do with it.”
In addition to the possibility of young people’s misusing prescription medications, Kasprzyk said the presence of unused medications can pose a safety hazard, particularly for the elderly.
“Nowadays, we’re seeing burglars targeting older people’s homes for the prescription drugs that they know are probably in there. It’s gotten dangerous, so people have got to get those drugs out of the house and into the hands of law enforcement to dispose of safely,” he said.
Tritto noted that Kids Escaping Drugs got involved in order to educate the community about the pervasiveness of addiction and what can be done to help.
“Addiction has always been an anonymous disease. We want to focus on community education, early intervention and getting people into treatment who need it,” he said. “Addiction doesn’t stereotype. There are kids in rural and urban areas, because a lot of the misuse takes place in schools: Lancaster, West Seneca, Springville. Unfortunately, we can’t target a specific demographic. The initial perception is that drugs are an inner-city problem and a lot of kids will turn to street drugs because they’re easy to obtain and more affordable [than prescription drugs]. If you ask any kid on our campus if they ever thought taking a couple of pills would turn into sticking a needle in their arm, all of them say no.”
Kasprzyk explained that the prescriptions will be collected by volunteers at one of 35 sites, including Bertrand Chaffee Hospital in Springville, catalogued by pharmacists on-site and then taken to an incinerator, which converts the waste products from burning the medications back into energy for its own use. That way, no toxins are released into the environment.
This April event will mark the fourth time a drug drop-off drive has taken place in Western New York. Kasprzyk said the amount of prescriptions collected has risen steadily over the years, and called the event “a huge success in Western New York.”
The first drive saw approximately 5,000 pounds of drugs collected, which rose to more than 9,000 pounds last October, the most recent effort.
“The reason our numbers have increased is because of increased awareness in the area and an increased number of donation sites,” Kasprzyk explained. “Every community in the area has partners with news organizations, law enforcement, local businesses, the Catholic diocese, healthcare organizations, insurance companies; we’re all coming together to use those resources. It’s just a mass network of energy that gets the community energized against this problem.”
He noted that the Bertrand Chaffee Hospital site will partner with the Erie County Sheriff’s Office and the Springville Police Department, as well as utilizing volunteers from the area to secure the medications anonymously and “with no questions asked.”
Tritto said that he hoped people will take advantage of the Prescription Drug Drop-Off not only to get rid of their old prescriptions and keep them out of teens’ hands, but also to realize that help is available for those who need it.
“Addiction affects every family in some way,” he said. “We’re hoping this event gets people talking and makes them realize that help is out there, whether it’s through our residential centers, early intervention program or just getting someone to come forward and admit they have an addiction.”
Tritto said that the Kids Escaping Drugs campaign has recently launched a new website, www.makeachangewny.org, which the organization shares with Alcohol and Drug Dependency Services Inc., allowing people older than 18 to find help if they need it.
Tritto and Kasprzyk both said that, although the drug drop-off takes place on one specific day, their organizations are always available to help and energize the community to keep prescription drugs off the streets.
More information on the April 28 event, including a full list of local drop-off locations, can be found at www.nationalprescriptiondrugdropoff.com.