By Chesley Oxendine
Rather than dropping pills in the trash or flushing them down the toilet where they can end up in the water supply, Fort Gibson residents have a new option for disposing of unneeded medicine.
In the Fort Gibson Police Station lobby now stands a large white drop box specifically for unused prescription pills, thanks to the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics.
There are 129 total boxes throughout Oklahoma, installed over the past two years.
The box, installed March 19, allows residents to drop off their extra medicines.
OBN Assistant Agent in Charge Mark Stewart plans on collecting the disposed pills every 7-10 days, he said.
“I operate out of Muskogee, and this is just going to become part of my little route,” Stewart said. “I’m in charge of about nine boxes, and I just go around and collect from each of them. Sometimes I’ve found as much as 25 pounds in a container.”
For OBN director Darrell Weaver, protecting people from overdosing on prescription medicines remained his primary motivation for such a program.
“Prescription drug abuse is a silent cancer in Oklahoma,” Weaver said. “84 percent of the drug overdose deaths in our state are tied to prescription drugs. If this box saves one kid’s life, the whole program is worth it.”
He said providing the narcotics drop boxes reached out to the community instead of the other way around — and can serve as amnesty for people who would otherwise illegally possess these drugs, since no questions are asked when someone makes a deposit.
“It’s a proactive way to save lives,” Weaver said. “These provide a consistent, safe drop off point for our citizens to take unwanted prescriptions out of their cabinets and dispose of them properly, which means they aren’t available for diverted use.”
Police Chief Clint Vernon placed his full support behind the effort, echoing Weaver’s sentiment.
“We believe in it, and it helps our citizens,” Vernon said. “Once I heard about this drop box, I put us on the list for one right away.”
Beyond preventing improper disposal or stockpiling, the program also finds a safe use for the medications, Weaver said.
All medicines collected — sometimes in excess of “14 tons” once the entire state’s been accounted for, according to Weaver — are sent to clean energy Covanta.
Covanta converts the disposed drugs, along with other collected trash, into fuel — which it then sells in return.
Weaver said the partnership with Covanta had earned the OBN a Henry Bellmon Sustainability Award, which rewards “people, agencies, organizations, or companies that dedicate themselves to a balanced approach toward quality of life for all, responsible economic growth, and environmental stewardship,” according to the award’s website.
“This means we can perform this program at no charge to the public, and then convert the medicine into green energy,” Weaver said. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”