About 120 pounds of prescription drugs were dropped off at the Richmond Police Department’s Prescription Drug Take Back Day Saturday at the Hilltop Mall police substation.
A strategically placed 2012 Chevy Camaro patrol car attracted the attention of passersby, which gave police representatives the opportunity to educate the adults on the risks of prescription drugs in the home and drug abuse while entertaining the kids who played a trunk-mounted X-Box.
The RPD’S purpose is to combat drug trafficking on the street and drug abuse in the home.
“In Richmond we have an epidemic of people breaking into homes looking for the narcotics, not the big screen,” said Officer Tim Simmons, a licensed pharmaceutical technician who helped host the event.
Break-ins are not the only way prescription drugs make it to the street.
While stealing prescription pads is one of the more obvious violations, altering the doctor’s prescribed dosage is another way of acquiring narcotics. Simply adding a zero to change the amount of pills or milligrams could be a sizeable payoff for someone in search of drugs, Simmons said. Independent pharmacists are most vulnerable, he said — larger pharmacies are connected through databases so it’s easier for pharmacy workers to detect dosage manipulation.
There are also people who prey on patients leaving the pharmacy — some may say they have cancer and no insurance and no means of getting treatment, others may offer $50 for what may have cost the patient less than $20 and potentially make thousands on the street.
Some doctors and pharmacists also have profited from administering drugs by under-the-table transactions in which narcotics and prescriptions are traded for cash and personal favors.
No matter how users get them, prescription drugs are abused in part, because of the their accessibility. “We all have it in our homes,” said Nabila Sher, the alcohol and drug policy coordinator for Bay Area Community Resources.
Drug usage and abuse among teens was a focal point for the education portion of the day. Police Cadet Carmen Santana told parents that common over-the-counter drugs such as Nyquil can give teens a drowsy feeling that some may like, serving as an introduction to drug-induced highs. Others may take drugs from adults’ medicine cabinets for personal use, or to sell at schools or on the street. Simmons said this was one of the greatest risks because parents, teachers and law enforcement are often unaware. “Even though [teens] seem innocent, you never know” if they could be abusing prescription drugs, one parent said.
Self-medication comes with a risk of addiction — people may think if a doctor is prescribing a drug it’s OK, Simmons said, and fail to realize the repercussions of medicating beyond a doctor’s recommendation. Whether it happens quickly or slowly, drug abuse often leads to some form of dependence, he said.
Saturday’s “no questions asked” drop-off event was a part of the fifth national Drug Enforcement Administration Drug Take-Back Day, which has collected 1.6 billion pounds of prescription drugs across thousands of cities in the past four years. After collection, the drugs will be weighed and burned.
Some people brought in drugs from friends and family members who battled various illnesses, and one person brought in medication from her neighborhood. Jacqueline Thalberg, the block captain for the 32nd Street Neighborhood Watch, posted a message to an online group that notified locals of the drop-off and offered to collect unused meds from her neighbors.
Dawn Colvin brought in drugs from a friend who moved overseas and said she was glad to have a place to safely leave the pills and grateful for the educational aspect of the event. “You don’t want anyone [abusing] a drug and potentially dying,” she said.
Centers for Disease Control records show that drug overdose deaths have steadily increased since 1970, peaking at 27,658 in 2007. Such numbers have prompted calls from Alameda County for accountability concerning rampant drug abuse.
In July, Alameda County passed a Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance, requiring manufacturers of drugs sold and distributed in the county to pay for the collection and disposal of unused medication. Contra Costa County is considering a similar measure.
By the end of the event on Saturday, a table that was once full of booklets on the science of addiction, how teens abuse medicine and seeking treatment, was nearly bare. Simmons, Sher and the cadets packed up and headed off with four full boxes of pills.
“It’s a good day when you can take 120 pounds of drugs off the street,” Simmons said.