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WAMC News

Berkshire County to participate in national perscription drug takeback day

By Patrick Donges

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wamc/local-wamc-966019.mp3

Pittsfield, MA – Municipalities in Berkshire County will join communities across the country participating in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's second national prescription drug takeback day.

On Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. more than 4,700 sites across the country, including 11 in Berkshire County and sites in Amherst and Springfield, will be accepting unused and expired medications free of charge and with no questions asked. The first event, held last September, netted over 242,000 pounds that's 121 tons of drugs. Berkshire County District Attorney David Capeless.

"The abuse and misuse of prescription medications has become a very serious issue, and unfortunately one of the main sources for these medications for people who are going to misuse or abuse them is from home medicine cabinets."

"Legitimate prescriptions that people have, whether they turn around and sell them, or somebody gets them from them, or steals them."

Capeless cited statistics that show from 2000 to 2008 the number of prescribed dosages of prescription opiates in Berkshire County rose over 450 percent, a rate of around 15 percent per year.

"It's tapered off in the last couple of years, but it's still growing. At a tiny rate, 2 to 4 percent, but it's still growing. We're up well over 3 million doses just for Berkshire County."

According to the website of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, while there has been a marked decrease in the use of some illegal drugs like cocaine, data from the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that nearly one-third of people aged 12 and over who used drugs for the first time in 2009 began by using a prescription drug non-medically.

The Berkshire County Prevention Needs Assessment Survey for 2009, an annual report on youth prevention administered by the Berkshire Youth Development Project, showed the use of narcotic medications,such as OxyContin or Percocet, by high school seniors without the approval of a doctor was above the national comparison sample.

Karen Cole, coordinator of the Pittsfield Prevention Partnership at Berkshire United Way, sees those statistics as a sign that parents, teachers and doctors should be on the lookout for illegal prescription use.

"I think it means that we have to take more strategic initiatives that really focus on prescription drugs and how kids are getting them, and doing take-backs like this which limits access. As well as doing a lot more education around the danger of these drugs."

Cole said many young people don't realize that the medications that they or their parents have been prescribed for pain are also powerful narcotics, leading them to underestimate their addictive properties.

"Kids who know from a very young age that alcohol is not going to be good for them, that marijuana is an illegal drug, they see this as something prescribed by a doctor. It's not illegal to them; it's not dangerous to them."

"I think whenever these things get prescribed the doctors have a really important role to play in explaining the highly addictive nature."

Along with increased ease of access, Cole said the misunderstanding among young people of the dangers of mixing prescription drugs with alcohol has brought this issue to the forefront of the prevention community.

Cole said parents with chronic pain who keep one or more prescription narcotics in their homes should count their pills to ensure they aren't being misused. Medication lock boxes, which can be used to store drugs safely, will be on display at some of the drop-off sites Saturday.