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COVID-19 cancels National Drug Take Back Day, but narcotics can also be disposed of safely at home

Maine's rate of opioid-related overdose deaths is among the highest in the country. Experts encouraging people to dispose of unwanted prescription medications.

MAINE, USA — The abuse of prescription opioids is a serious problem nationwide, but particularly in Maine. 

Maine's rate of opioid-related overdose deaths is among the highest in the country, which is why getting rid of unwanted medications is so important.

National Drug Take Back Day in Maine happens twice a year: in April and in October.

In October 2019, the state collected 31,180 pounds of medications—an amount larger than what was collected from every other New England state. 

Due to COVID-19, April's National Drug Take Back Day was cancelled, so Cumberland County District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck wants to get a message out.

"It's very important to make sure that if these drugs in your house and you're not using them to get rid of them," Sahrbeck said.

Especially since according to the CDC, 80% of people who develop an addiction to opioids started by using a prescription pain reliever.

But how do you get rid of medications when one of the best ways is cancelled? A lot of drug drop boxes, which are typically located at police departments, are also not available to the public right now. 

"Obviously this has affected everything in our lives and how we operate and this is one of them," Falmouth Police Department Chief John Kilbride said.

Kilbride is recommending, for the time being, that people safely store any excess narcotics.

"If you can store them safely away from children. Our kids are home there is the quarantine piece of it so you have to be hyper-vigilant on maintaining and securing your hazards whether firearms or drugs."

But if you can't wait to get rid of your medications, there are guidelines to safely dispose of them at home.

"There are some guidelines out there for properly disposing [of] these drugs getting them out of the house in a way that's done safely," Sahrbeck said.

An infographic was developed by the staff at Portland's Public Health Division in response to the cancellation of National Drug Take Back Day. It provides four steps for safe at-home disposal. 

  1. Take unwanted medication and mix it with dirt, coffee grounds or kitty litter.
  2. Put it in a sealed plastic bag.
  3. Throw it in the trash.
  4. Scratch out your personal information on your empty medicine bottle.

These are simple steps to help keep households and communities safe.

Sahrbeck says, "we just wanted to make sure that message wasn't lost with this pandemic."

Some police departments are still collecting unwanted prescriptions but the suggestion is to call ahead first.

National Drug Take Back Day will be re-scheduled once it is safe to do so.

RELATED: More Maine drug deaths in 2019 than 2018; 16% increase in deaths due to non-pharmaceutical drugs

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