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New England News

Law Enforcement Officials Cite Gains In Battling Opioid Addiction

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WAMC
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More than a ton of prescription medications have been safely disposed of since a drug takeback program started in western Massachusetts ten months ago.

To help people safely and responsibly dispose of unused prescription drugs sitting around in bathroom cabinets and kitchen cupboards, the Hampden County District Attorney and Hampden County Sheriff last September launched a medicine return system.

Drop-off boxes were put at 14 locations in Hampden County, primarily at police stations. Sheriff  department staff pick up the contents of the boxes and transport it to a medical incineration firm for disposal.

Sheriff Nick Cocchi said it has been quite a haul.

"We have moved 2,788 pounds of pain medication off the cabinet shelves, out of the homes, and had it destroyed," announced Cocchi.  " We want to double that this year."

Along with the permanent drop-off sites, there have been one-day drug takeback events such as one held Thursday at the Holyoke Mall.

David McGarrigle of Holyoke came to the mall with two plastic bags containing what he estimated were 30-40 pill bottles to put into the locked drop-off box.

" Its old stuff we had around for a while," he said, adding  " We have grandchildren and we don't want them getting into it."

Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni said the safe disposal of prescription medicine is important in the fight against opioid addiction.

"Very often people are going into medicine cabinets looking for these kind of things and very often it becomes the beginning of addiction," said Gulluni.

  He  said there appears to have been a leveling-off in the number of opioid-related deaths in the first three months of this year.   

" I think the education and prevention work we are doing is literally saving lives," said Gulluni.

Massachusetts now restricts initial prescriptions for opioids to a five-day supply.

The Baker administration this week awarded $2.3 million to help sheriffs in Massachusetts combat opioid addiction. 

In Hampden County, Sheriff Cocchi said the $188,000 from the state will be used to increase recovery bed space and provide case management for inmates with drug addictions.

"The key focus is to put professional personnel on staff to help the substance abuse offender population and help them prepare for their reentry," said Cocchi.

On Friday, Gulluni announced a large heroin bust. Five people were arrested and 21,000 bags of heroin were seized as a result of a six-month investigation into drug trafficking in the greater Springfield area.

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