Dozens of Merced County residents cleaned out their medicine cabinet Saturday, turning their unused and prescription drugs into Merced County sheriff's deputies during the first ever "Nationwide Prescription Drug Take Back Day."
Before Saturday's event even kicked off at 10 a.m. in the Merced Lowe's parking lot, it wasn't a question of whether folks would drop off medication -- but how many deputies it would take to carry it all.
Deputy Tom MacKenzie, who supervised the drop-off, said nearly a dozen people had lined up at the collection site by 9:30 a.m. The event was slated to end at 2:30 p.m. -- but deputies extended the drop-off time until 3:30 p.m. because attendance was so high.
So much medication was collected, deputies said it couldn't all fit into a shopping cart.
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At the end of the event, deputies collected more than 75 pounds of discarded pills and prescription drugs. Another drop-off point was hosted by Los Banos police at the Lowe's parking lot in Los Banos.
No narcotics were dropped off during the event, MacKenzie said.
Nationwide Prescription Drug Take Back Day was an initiative coordinated by local law enforcement agencies, the Drug Enforcement Administration and White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). The initiative was geared toward preventing increased pill abuse and theft.
The drugs were collected from residents with no questions asked.
Sheriff Mark Pazin said he was pleased with the large number of county residents who took advantage of the event. "They took on the responsibility of turning in unwanted and unused medication that would normally languish in the medicine cabinet and quite possibly fall into the wrong hands," Pazin said.
Besides the obvious risks prescription drugs can pose to children in a household, law enforcement officials said the drugs also can damage the environment when they're not disposed of properly or flushed down the toilet.
MacKenzie said many of those who dropped off medications Saturday had acquired them because a relative died. Others kept them after doctors switched their medications, while others accumulated large amounts of drugs because they simply didn't know how to dispose of them. "It just proves there's a dire need for (the disposal program)," MacKenzie said.
Pazin said he'll write a letter in support of the event to ONDCP Director R. Gil Kerlikowske and Anthony D. Williams, special agent in charge of the DEA's San Francisco field division.
He's hopeful the event will be held again next year, although federal approval will be necessary for that to happen. "It was a win-win for everybody involved," Pazin said.
The 2008 National Survey in Drug Use and Health estimates there are 6.2 million current nonmedical users of psychotherapeutic drugs in the United States.
Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.