Metro groups unite to take back unused pills Saturday

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Metro Detroiters can dispose of their unused prescription medications at police stations and other locations across the region on Saturday, when scores of local groups participate in National Prescription Drug Take Back Day to combat the opioid epidemic.

The semi-annual event has become a rallying point for health providers, insurers, pharmacies, local agencies and community groups who say getting unused pills out of medicine cabinets is a first step to curbing addiction and overdose deaths.

“We know that most people start off taking unused pills of moms’ or dads’, or grandmas’ and grandpas’ medicine cabinets,” said Lt. Mike Shaw, a spokesman for the Michigan State Police, which is leading Michigan’s drug take-back effort.

All of the state’s 30 Michigan State Police posts will be open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday to accept medications. Drugs can be dropped off throughout the year during regular office hours.

National Prescription Drug Take Back Days are organized every April and October by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, which has reported that 80 percent of new heroin users begin their addiction by using prescription opioid medications. More than 9 billion pounds of medication have been collected since the events launched in 2010.

Punch in your ZIP code at, and you’ll get a list of the drug drop-off locations in your area.

The United States had 64,070 drug overdose deaths from January 2016 through January 2017, according to the latest data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Preventions. Michigan had 2,376 drug-related deaths statewide in 2016 — nearly a 20 percent increase over 2015, according to the most recent data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Eden Wells, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said unused prescriptions pose dangers for any child old enough to reach a medicine cabinet. They’re also a likely first step for teens headed for future drug problems.

“Adolescents particularly, even just a few days of taking these types of drugs can increase greatly the risk of addiction to these types of medications,” Wells said. “If you’re not using them, and they’ve been prescribed to you, get rid of them.”

“We really don’t want people to be flushing these down toilets or throwing them in landfills, because many of these drugs can cause environmental harm,” she added. “It’s very important to take these to a safe place.”

Multiple groups are participating across Metro Detroit, including Henry Ford Health System. Henry Ford Health Center in Brownstown will have a drive-thru drop off from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Saturday. It will accept any medications used by people or pets, but no liquids, needles or sharps.

Even dentists have gotten involved. Delta Dental of Michigan has donated 600 Deterra drug disposal bags, which will be available at dropoff sites across the the area. When combined with warm water inside the bags, drugs are deactivated and dissolved so they’re safe for disposal. Dentists also are talking with their patients about the risks of opioids.

“It’s imperative that dentists have conversations with patients to help them best understand what pain management strategy is right for them following a dental procedure,” said Margaret Trimer, spokeswoman for Delta Dental of Michigan.

The Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority has placed 28 red drug take-back boxes in Wayne County community police stations and community service sites. It’s part of a broad assault on the epidemic that has included distribution of the opioid antidote Naloxone to more than 5,000 county residents and first responders.

“We work hand-in-hand with the DEA, because this is something that’s very important,” said Darlene Owens, the Authority’s substance abuse director.

The state’s largest health insurer has also been getting the word out on National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. With 4.5 million members, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has worked hard to rein in opioid prescribing, said Dr. Duane DiFranco, a psychiatrist and senior medical director for Blue Care Network.

Blue Cross limits the number of pills patients can pick up at one time from the pharmacy. And new opioid prescriptions are limited to a five-day supply, though seven days are allowed by state law, DiFranco said.

“With our pharmacy benefit, you can’t go and get a 90-day supply,” he noted, adding the insurer has also increased access to non-opioid pain treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, and to medication assisted addiction treatment.

“Folks that are abusing opioids are starting out using prescription drugs that they were prescribed, or that they got from a friend or a relative,” DiFranco added. “And 60 percent of Americans have unused opioids sitting in their medicine cabinets.

“So the biggest thing we can do is to decrease the excess supply of opioids.”

Handling drugs safely

■Keep drugs in the container you received them in

■Secure the container in a lock-box and store in a cool, dry place, out of the reach of children and pets

■When you’re done with your prescription, visit for drug disposal locations

■If you can’t get to a drug take-back site, the MDEQ has information on safe drug disposal

Source: Detroit News research