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Like everything, DEA National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is affected by pandemic

Federal officials say overdose deaths are up over the past year.

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Saturday was Drug Take Back Day, an opportunity for people to get rid of unwanted, expired or unidentified prescription medications. The bi-annual event is sponsored by the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA.

At the Jennings Police Department drop-off location, one woman turned over two clear, plastic, couch-pillow-size bags stuffed with capsules and pills.

“That is huge,” said St. Louis County Police Opioid Prevention Detective Melody Quinn. “Thank you for bringing it in.”

The woman, who we are not identifying, said, “I know I have some vitamins, some blood pressure medicine, some gastrointestinal medicine. I also have a little bit of pain medicine in that sack. There were liquids, like cough syrups that you need to buy over the counter.”

Detective Quinn was armed with information, and trafficking in education.

“These packets are for drug disposal at home,” she told the woman. “Add a little bit of water and shake it up. It deactivates the medication and it’s biodegradable.”

“Would you like some Narcan?” Quinn asked. “The FDA has approved it for 12 months past the expiration date.”

Quinn told a reporter, “Our goal is to get opioids, especially, but any prescription medication that can be misused, out of homes when they’re not needed. It will be off the street and incinerated.”

While the DEA Drug Take Back is an annual event, this year it takes on special meaning in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Andree Swanson is a DEA-St. Louis public information officer.

“From the period of September 2019 to September 2020,” Swanson said, “the CDC indicates 29% more people died of overdose than in the year prior. That number is 2½ times higher than the number of people who died in car accidents.”

Quinn added, “We do believe the isolation really did trigger the sharp increase in that 12-month period. It’s the highest 12-month period in the history of the United States.”

Some people traded in unwanted medication for much-desired information.

“And the other thing I got is some packets, here, that you can put your medicines in,” explained the woman. “You have to add water to it. I’ll have to read the directions, but then it makes it biodegradable and you can throw it in your trash. I think this is a great way to get these drugs off the street.”

If you missed your opportunity on Drug Take Back Day, the DEA and local law enforcement also provide permanent drop-box locations. The DEA website includes a way to find those locations.