Fighting opioid addiction by limiting the supply
Saturday, October 26, is DEA National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, an opportunity for people to responsibly dispose of unneeded medications.
Hennepin County has participated in the twice-yearly program for the past three years – last April, the Sheriff’s office collected almost 500 pounds of medications at three mobile locations.
Hennepin County works to reduce the amount of potentially addictive drugs by providing opportunities to responsibly dispose of medications, by teaching people to be mindful about the way they store medications in their homes and by monitoring the impact drugs have on residents’ safety and well-being.
Medicine disposal locations
This fall, residents can deliver medications to three different locations:
Cub Foods, 13855 Rogers Drive
Jubilee Foods, 2131 Commerce Boulevard
Cub Foods at The Quarry, 1540 New Brighton Boulevard
Hennepin County employees are fight the opioid crisis year-round, by working to reduce the availability of drugs in our communities.
An environmental approach
Part of Ryan Gastecki’s job is to prevent opioids and other prescription medications from getting into landfills and the water stream, but he also is very aware that his work to ensure that residents appropriately discard unneeded medications will also prevent abuse.
In his work as a senior environmentalist with Hennepin County’s Environment and Energy Department, Gastecki and others focus on helping residents dispose of many kinds of household hazardous waste.
Partners provide options for disposal
Hennepin County Environment and Energy partners with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, local police departments, county and privately owned pharmacies and Partnership for Change to install safe disposal boxes for use by the public. As of mid-October, law enforcement in Hennepin County has destroyed 11,560 pounds of unneeded medications in 2019, bringing the total to 143,208 pounds since the program started in 2010. Hennepin Healthcare boxes have brought in 2,350 pounds of medication. The county does not monitor totals from independent pharmacies and retail pharmacies in Hennepin County.
Sometimes, people can’t get to a drop-off location; Gastecki and Sheriff’s Office staff also take a mobile disposal unit to visit independent living communities in Hennepin County. In August, at residences in Brooklyn Park, Champlin and Brooklyn Center, collecting 63 pounds of unneeded medications.
“Lots of people don’t know what it can do to you or do to the environment,” Gastecki said. “Different household hazardous wastes carry different kinds of pollution. We need to keep toxicity out of the waste stream.”
Treatment plants often cannot remove all of the chemicals from wastewater; a decade ago, a study by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency already was finding trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in fish from Minnesota rivers and lakes.
Find out how and where to safely dispose of prescription and over-the-counter medications.
Using education to prevent addiction, overdose
Dr. Laurie Willhite, a pharmacist at Hennepin Healthcare, works to ensure that the opioids that are in the community are stored safely and treated with care.
Willhite also staffs the Poison Control Center at HCMC. Accidental poisonings and suicide attempts involving prescription medication are among the leading reasons for the calls the center receives.
Many of these accidental poisonings, as well as poisoning by overdose, could be prevented if fewer pills were in circulation. Willhite and others are working to change how both doctors and patients think about pain management and prescription painkillers.
Hennepin Healthcare now includes safe disposal instructions and resources in discharge notes for patients who are going home with medications.
Training physicians Willhite has provided training and safe opioid prescribing practices to many University of Minnesota medical students, as well as Hennepin Healthcare physicians, who already are being evaluated on the number of times they prescribe narcotic painkillers. Willhite also trains hospital and clinic staff on the use of naloxone, a widely available medication that can stop an overdose in progress.
Find out more about how to handle and dispose of prescription medications safely.
Addiction, related crimes rooted in easy supply
As a narcotics investigator years ago, Lt. Rick Palaia too often found himself executing search warrants in unexpected surroundings: The bedrooms of young adults in their parents’ homes, still hung with varsity letters and honor roll certificates.
The story lines were familiar: Treated for sports-related injuries, young people found themselves hooked on the pain killers their doctors prescribed. Or, in a familiar place, they came across a pill they thought would be fun to try. Before turning to street drugs, they fed their addictions from the medicine cabinets of their parents and grandparents.
“If it’s readily available, that’s where they are going to go get it,” said Palaia, who now manages crime analysts who provide analytical support to narcotic investigations and trend analysis with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office. “It always brings up curiosity, how did you end up in this situation?”
Crimes lead back to drugs “in one way or another”
Palaia and his colleagues at the Sheriff’s Office too often can trace robberies, thefts and other crimes to their roots in addiction.
“A large majority of crimes, even if they aren’t drug-related, lead back to drugs in one way or another,” Palaia said. “High-level dealers never come in contact with the users – if we don’t focus on the human aspect of it, what are we doing it for?”
And each person’s addiction also traces back from a moment when a person had addictive substances available to them.
“Nobody takes this stuff wanting to get addicted to it,” he said. “I really worry about these high school-age kids who are in that experimentation stage. If you have a house where kids are coming and going all the time, it really needs to be under lock and key.”
Hennepin County Sheriff's Office is working to combat opioid abuse.
Learn more at the sheriff's website.