Prescription drug drop boxes now will be available at all times at Baltimore's nine police district offices as the city works to stem heroin overdoses and other accidental drug deaths, health and police officials said Monday.
The boxes, where people can bring unused drugs, including the opioids that can lead to heroin addiction, until now were available only once a year through a program run by the Drug Enforcement Agency.
"We want to have the boxes be permanent so it's not only once a year," said Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore City Health Commissioner. "We want to make this any time."
The expansion of the program, announced Monday, was done in collaboration with the Baltimore Police Department, the Baltimore City Health Department, Behavioral Health System Baltimore and the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice.
Four of the drop boxes already are installed and ready for use and the rest will be available in coming days. The police department will maintain the boxes, collecting and disposing of the dropped off drugs.
"These drop boxes will help to keep prescription drugs off the streets and out of the wrong hands," said Baltimore City Police Commissioner Kevin Davis in a statement.
The Morning Sun
The misuse of prescription drugs has contributed significantly to drug addiction across the country.
There were 303 total drug and alcohol overdose deaths in Baltimore in 2014, compared with 246 in 2013, a 23 percent increase. Of those, 192 overdose deaths were heroin-related, compared with 150 in 2013.
In 2013, 6.5 million people over the age of 12 used prescription drugs for uses other than a medical condition, according to federal statistics. More than half of prescription drug abusers get the drugs from family or friends.
Wen said narcotics are not the only problem. Sometimes kids get into medicine cabinets and accidentally take diabetes, blood pressure or other medications with dire consequences. For example, a child could bleed to death if he or she takes too much of a blood thinner.
"People don't really know how dangerous these drugs can be, but they have the potential to kill," Wen said.
People often keep drugs to use later, but Wen said it can be dangerous to use expired drugs. It also is not good to flush drugs down the toilet because they go into the water supply.
Funding from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Maryland Behavioral Health Administration and Behavioral Health System Baltimore helped make the expanded drug collection program possible.