Midlands authorities cracking down on prescription drug abuse

COLUMBIA, SC (WACH) - Richland County deputies and the Columbia police department are teaming up with the feds to make sure prescription drugs are used for their intended purpose.

Countless pills are prescribed on a daily basis, and when they're used for the right reasons it's a prescription for health. But, when a pill bottle is just left in a medicine cabinet, someone who was never supposed to have it can develop a dangerous habit.

"1 in 9 children are actually abusing prescription or over-the-counter drugs," said Deputy Arielle Riposta of the Richland County Sheriff's Department.

Every day it's estimated that 2,500 teenagers abuse a prescription painkiller for the first time. In the Midlands, authorities say prescription drug abuse ranks second only to alcohol abuse, beating out both tobacco and marijuana. Teens are either abusing their own medication and sharing it with others, or taking it from other members of their family.

Since 2007, the Richland County Sheriff's Department has offered drug take-back programs that allow the general public to properly dispose of unused, unwaned or expired prescription drugs. Later this month, the department is teaming up with the Drug Enforcement Administration to focus on the problem in a one-day take-back initiative at the sheriff's department headquarters on Two Notch Road.

"It's very important for folks to clean out the medicine cabinets, clean out their drawers and really make sure they're keeping an eye on their prescription medication," said Deputy Riposta.

People shouldn't be watching only to avoid abuse. On average, officials with the Palmetto Poison Center in Columbia report they get 100 calls a day about potential poisoning. Roughly 60 percent of those are about children two-years-old or younger who have ingested something they found in a pill bottle.

"Kids who are curious, they get into the bathroom or the medicine cabinet and a lot of medication looks like candy and they open those bottles up," said Dr. Jill Michels of the Palmetto Poison Center. "It rattles, it shakes. It makes noise. They open the bottles and they get into the medicine."

Depending on what they find it's a sure trip to the hospital, or worse, and something experts say is entirely avoidable.

On Saturday, October 29, Richland County deputies, Columbia police and the DEA will be hosting a disposal site for the community to drop off medications at the sheriff's department headquarters on Two Notch Road in Columbia. Columbia police are offering a drop-off site that same day at the department's downtown Columbia headquarters on Washington Street. The one-day event is part of a national initiative focused on the proper use and disposal of prescription drugs.

We want to make sure that Columbia residents know that throwing unused prescription pills in the trash or flushing them down the toilet can pose a health risk to others," said Columbia police chief Randy Scott. "We also want to stop people from abusing the drugs."

In past years, local law enforcment and the DEA have collected more than 300 tons of prescription pills through the drug take-back program.

Officials urge you to do the following to keep prescription drugs out of the wrong hands:

- Take a regular inventory of your medicine cabinet

- Store medications in a secure place that only a trusted adult can access

- Monitor dosages and refills of household prescription medicines

- Do not flush medications down the toilet or drain

- Use permanent marker to cover up personal information or tear label off pill bottle before dropping it off

Authorities offer those and one other simple common sense tip according to Dr. Jill Michels.

"If it was prescribed for a certain disease or condition and you're no longer using it there's no reason to keep it in your house."

The Richland County Sheriff's Department offers drop-off locations two days a week at various locations throughout the county. For more information you are encouraged to call the department at 803-576-3000 or your local police or sheriff's department.