Tisbury, Chilmark, West Tisbury, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown police will provide Island residents with a safe, secure means of disposing of unwanted, unused, or expired prescription drugs. On Saturday, the departments will collect medications for disposal.
“The service is free and anonymous, no questions asked,” Tisbury Police said in a press release.
Chilmark police officer Sean Slavin and Tisbury police officer Dustin Shaw initiated the drug take-back in conjunction with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Edgartown and West Tisbury followed suit.
On Saturday, residents of any Island town may go to the Tisbury, Chilmark, West Tisbury, Oak Bluffs or Edgartown police departments to drop off drugs from 10 am to 2 pm.
“This initiative addresses a vital public safety and public health issue,” the DEA said in a press release. “Medicines that languish in home cabinets are highly susceptible to diversion, misuse, and abuse.”
Increasingly, Island police say, prescription painkillers have become the target of Island thieves. The problem has been most evident in Edgartown.
In March, Edgartown Police investigated five break-ins in one week in which the thief or thieves only took pills. The first week in April thieves broke into four houses in the Bold Meadow development. Only one thing was missing from one of the houses — prescription drugs.
“It’s a huge problem now as you can see from all the break-ins that we are having,” State Police sergeant Jeff Stone, head of the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force said of the pill abuse problem.
Sergeant Stone said the problem is exacerbated by the fact that prescription pills are often easily available in many medicine cabinets. Increasingly, young people are the biggest abusers.
“It is the biggest problem we have out here,” he said. “Bigger than any of the illegal drugs is the misuse of prescriptions — use, selling.”
Sergeant Stone said profit drives the problem. For example, a person who obtains 30 Percocets, a common painkiller, for a co-pay of $6 to $15, can turn around and sell each pill for $30 apiece.
“They sell it for a dollar per milligram,” he explained, “so a 30-milligram Perc — Perc 30s they call them — goes for $30 apiece.”
Sergeant Stone said Saturday’s drug take-back “is a perfect opportunity for people to get rid of their pills in the right way.”
Drug abusers employ a number of strategies to obtain pills. They are often adept at using the medical system to their advantage.
Prescription pill abusers will seek medical attention for pain. Because physicians vary in their willingness to prescribe pain pills, abusers have become adept at so-called “doctor shopping.”
Once in hand, the person may try to alter the prescription.
Tisbury Police, alerted by a pharmacist, recently responded to a call for a report of an altered prescription. A woman, a known drug abuser, had changed a 0 to a 6 on a prescription for 10 Vicodon tablets issued by a Martha’s Vineyard Hospital doctor.
Another frequent ploy, a drug abuser will report the theft of his or her prescription pills to police so that he can receive a police report and return to a doctor for a refill. “It happens all the time,” Sgt. Stone said.
In recent years, Island police have alerted hospital officials to the problem of prescription pill abuse and met with individual doctors to speak about ways to combat the problem. Those strategies are paying off and are ratcheting up the pressure on people who attempt to abuse the system.
Tim Walsh, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital chief executive officer, said pain management is a very big challenge for primary care doctors. He said doctors are hesitant to withold treatement or simply stop seeing a patient.
In some cases, he said, when a doctor suspects a patient is abusing pain killers, he or she will draw up a formal contract with the patient that clearly outlines the expectations on all sides.
The hospital’s primary care doctors now use an electronic medical records system that provides all doctors in the Partners Healthcare system with up to date drug prescription information on individual patients.
The hospital is also utilizing e-prescribing, in which an electronic copy of a prescription is sent to a patient’s pharmacist of choice so that it is impossible to alter.
The one gap in the electronic medical records system and e-prescribing is the emergency room. A system is expected to be in place sometime this year, he said.