Don Lauzier realized that something had to be done several years ago, when his father died and he had to decide what to do with unused medications.

He didn’t want his father’s pills to get into the wrong hands or hurt anyone, but there was no safe way to get rid of the drugs.

“We just flushed things down the toilet,” he said. “There had to be a better solution.”

There is now. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration will hold a National Drug Take Back Day on Saturday. Maine police departments, hospitals, pharmacies and others will collect unused and unwanted medications from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at locations around the state.

It will be the fourth nationwide effort to prevent the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs that are stored in medicine cabinets, and to keep unwanted medications from winding up in landfills or being flushed down toilets and poisoning the environment.

In three past events, Maine collected more drugs per capita than any other state. “It’s been growing each time we’ve had the event, so we’re anticipating another big event Saturday,” Lauzier said.

Mainers are encouraged to drop off prescription and over-the-counter drugs that are expired or unwanted.

The collection efforts have taken on special urgency in Maine, which has one of the nation’s highest rates of addiction to prescription painkillers. Hundreds of Maine babies are born each year into opiate withdrawal, and more Mainers are killed by prescription drug overdoses than traffic accidents.

“Just looking at the numbers, it’s staggering,” said Lauzier, vice president of community relations for Saco & Biddeford Savings Institution. After dealing with his father’s medications, Lauzier co-founded the Northern York County Prescription Drug Coalition.

Lauzier said he has since learned that young people take drugs from their grandparents’ medicine cabinets, and that some addicts have been known to go to open houses, posing as prospective home buyers, to check medicine cabinets for pills.

The coalition — including Saco & Biddeford Savings Institution, Southern Maine Medical Center and the Coastal Healthy Communities Coalition — has helped place permanent drug collection boxes in police stations in Old Orchard Beach, Saco and Kennebunk. It also is working with the DEA to promote and coordinate local collections Saturday.

Lauzier said organizers hope especially that more nursing homes and senior living centers will bring medications to the collections. Some institutions still flush drugs to keep them from being diverted and abused.

Nearly every police agency in Maine is sponsoring a collection site, either at the police station or another location. To find the site nearest you, go to www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/takeback or call your local police department.

Portland’s collection sites include the Maine Medical Center parking lot, the Rite Aid Pharmacy at 290 Congress St. and the University of New England at 716 Stevens Ave.

The collection is free and confidential. Labels should be left on medicine containers so the drugs can be identified.

 

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at [email protected]