State Government

Vermonters turn in record 3.5 tons of unwanted drugs

That’s an estimated 12 million pills

Vermonters participated in the nationwide Prescription Drug Take Back Day this past Saturday, turning in more than 3.5 tons of unused, unwanted and expired medication at over 55 collection sites throughout the state. The 7,165 pounds of collected medication sets a record for Drug Take Back Day in Vermont, exceeding the previous record of 6,734 pounds collected in October 2019, according a statement from Gov. Phil Scott’s office.

It takes 1,680 average oxycontin pills (.269 grams) to make a pound. Some pills are heavier, some are lighter. Using the oxycontin pill standard, Vermonters turned in an estimated 12,037,200 pills.

“As we continue to work to prevent substance misuse in Vermont, we know having unused prescriptions in the medicine cabinets at homes is a risk, which is why Drug Take Back Days and our ongoing collection efforts are so important,” said Governor Phil Scott. “I greatly appreciate the Vermonters who contributed to this successful collection day on Saturday – it will make a difference in our prevention work.” 

Take Back Day is organized in partnership with the Vermont Health Department, the Department of Public Safety, local and state law enforcement agencies and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This twice-yearly event provides a safe, convenient and responsible way to dispose of prescription and over-the-counter medications, while educating about the potential for medication misuse, accidental ingestion and overdose.  Communities across the state hosted collection sites, which were staffed by local and state police and county sheriff departments, and the collected medications were securely transported out of state and incinerated. 

“Law Enforcement agencies recognize the importance of collaborating with the Department of Health as well as other support partners in the ongoing struggle to keep prescription drugs from being diverted,” said Lamoille County Sheriff Roger Marcoux. “I have watched substance use disorder destroy families and overwhelm communities for 41 years. Enforcement alone is not the key, and every Vermonter must realize they can play a part in changing the scenario. Properly discarding unused drugs can, and has, saved lives. Thank you to all who have participated and to the law enforcement agencies who support the drug take back program.”

National data shows misused prescription drugs were most often obtained through family and friends with unused prescriptions. Medications that are not properly stored can pose a risk to the health of children and pets who might accidentally ingest them. Flushing medications, or tossing them in the trash, can also endanger our waterways and wildlife. The DEA estimates that about 10% of the medication collected on Take Back Day are opioids. 

Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD said more than half of the people who misuse prescription medication get it from a friend or relative, often straight out of the medicine cabinet. Which is why timely, safe disposal of unused and unwanted medications makes a huge difference in preventing misuse and diversion. Dr. Levine emphasized that the COVID-19 pandemic has created unique challenges for people. “For our friends and loved ones suffering from a substance use disorder, and the many Vermonters on whom the stress of the pandemic has taken an emotional toll, it’s important that help includes preventing easy access to prescription and over-the-counter drugs – especially prescription painkillers,” said Dr. Levine. “Let’s make Take Back Day every day.” 

Saturday’s event marked the 20th National Take Back Day, and the 11th here in Vermont. Since Vermont began its participation, the state has collected more than 56,000 pounds of unused medications.

If you missed Take Back Day, the Health Department coordinates a system of permanent prescription drug disposal sites, such as at pharmacies and police stations where disposal boxes or kiosks are open to the community year-round. 

To find a permanent drug disposal site near you, visit healthvermont.gov/drugtakeback or dial 2-1-1.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, visit VTHelplink.org for support and referral services. 

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