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Michigan residents give back 10 tons of drugs

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

In one day, Michiganians gave back some 20,370 pounds of unused prescription pills, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Nationally, April 29 was the most successful drug take back day yet, netting some 450 tons, or 900,386 pounds at about 5,500 collection sites between 4,200 “law enforcement and community partners” in the effort. It was the 13th drug take back day since the practice started in September 2010.

In the three-county area that makes up Metro Detroit — Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties — drug givebacks accounted for about 38 percent of the pills returned in Michigan, or 7,699 of the 20,370 pounds returned. Those three counties also account for about 38.5 percent of Michigan’s population.

In all, Michigan had 202 drug take-back sites between 147 law enforcement organizations, said Rich Isaacson, spokesman for the Detroit office of the DEA.

But within the three counties, the most populous, Wayne County, accounted for the smallest number of pills returned: 1,613 pounds, compared to 3,507 in Oakland and 2,579 in Macomb County. Oakland County residents gave back more than double the number of pills than Wayne County residents despite having one-third less residents. And despite Macomb County having less than half of Wayne County’s population, residents there gave up about 1.6 times the number of pills.

Roseville Police Department, in Macomb County, collected some 279 pounds of pills that day, said Police Chief James Berlin.

“We advertised the dickens out of it,” Berlin said. Fliers were put up in pharmacies and at senior homes and schools, urging people to give away the drugs they don’t need.

Roseville is trying to boost its drug collection efforts by installing a second box outside of the police station. It’s already been ordered and should be up by mid-July. The $1,400 box was paid for with funds from drug forfeitures, Berlin said.

“We’re using the people who’ve been peddling this stuff to help pay and stop some of it,” Berlin said.

Dr. Stephen Bell, a member of both Gov. Rick Snyder’s Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Task Force and the newer Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Commission, said trust is another factor.

“If every time you see a policeman, it’s a negative experience for you, will you want to walk into a police station, of all places? That’s one reason it would be nice to have opportunities to get rid of drugs in a neutral site, like a pharmacy,” said Bell, who practices at Newport Internal Medicine in northern Monroe County.

Efforts are afoot in Wayne County to address the imbalance.

In Wayne County, 22 year-round take back bins have been installed, mostly at police departments, in areas such as Lincoln Park, Grosse Ile and Westland, but also in three “neutral,” non-police sites.

The concern with neutral sites, Blackwell explained, is that criminals may perceive them as an “easy target,” compared to the inside of a police station. It’s a concern Bell shared.

“Just imagine what a 35-gallon drum of Vicodin would be worth,” Bell said.

Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority has purchased another 20 bins to be given to police departments in Wayne County. Those were grant-funded and cost less than $11,000 overall, said Brooke Blackwell, spokeswoman for the authority. Inkster, Sumpter Township and Wayne State police have taken boxes, and other departments are expected to get boxes as well. Those will come free of cost, “just the gas to pick them up,” Blackwell said.

The drugs collected have since been sent to one of the seven EPA-approved drug incineration sites in Michigan and destroyed, Isaacson said.

The DEA’s next drug take back day is set for Saturday, Oct. 28.


Pounds of Rx pills collected, by county:

Wayne: 1,613 (Detroit: 35)

Oakland: 3,507

Macomb: 2,579

Michigan State Police (all posts statewide): 600

Washtenaw: 268

St. Clair: 229

Livingston: 134

Monroe: 95

Lenawee: 87

Source: U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, Southeast Michigan statistics on National Drug Take Back Day on April 29, 2017