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Even though Calvert Substance Abuse Services reported a whopping 368 percent growth rate in the amount of opiate and prescription drug abuse over the past four years, the Prescription Drug Disposal Workgroup said drug take-back programs have been a success over the past year.

“It’s a constant work in progress,” Calvert County Sheriff Mike Evans said of the group, for which the sheriff’s office is a partner. “It’s working so well.”

The workgroup, formed in 2009, also consists of representatives from the Calvert Alliance Against Substance Abuse, Division of Parks and Recreation, Calvert County State’s Attorney’s Office, Progressive Pharmacies, Department of Juvenile Services, Calvert Substance Abuse Services, Commission on Aging, Division of Solid Waste and Maryland State Police Prince Frederick Barrack. Seeing prescription drug abuse on the rise, the group formed with the goal of removing prescription medications from criculation by providing the public with alternative disposal methods. It also educates the public on proper disposal, the dangers of abuse and its prevalence in the community.

At Tuesday’s Calvert County Board of County Commissioners meeting, the drug disposal workgroup presented its 2010 progress, citing the collection of 800 pounds of non-narcotic medications through the “Dispose My Meds” program, in which Chesapeake Pharmacy and Calvert-Arundel Pharmacy participate as collection agencies. The group also received more than 140 pounds of medications, both narcotic and non-narcotic, in the sheriff’s office drop box.

“In 2010 we collected almost 1,000 pounds of both narcotic and non-narcotic prescription medications,” Lt. Dave McDowell said. “And some illegal drugs have been in the box as well, and that’s a good thing in a way.”

“When you think about it, 800 pounds, that’s a lot of pills,” Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) said.

The workgroup’s other accomplishments include: sponsoring a prescription drug abuse community forum; establishing a parent support group to assist parents with children who are struggling with addiction; presenting to local organizations like the Boys & Girls Club and Asbury-Solomons; and co-hosting the prescription drug “take-back” events in the fall and spring.

“This year we’re having at least a 50 percent increase in what we’re taking back,” said Leo Mallard, CEO and founder of Chesapeake Pharmacy and Calvert-Arundel Pharmacy. Mallard’s main focus has been on the environmental impact of pharmaceuticals that end up in people’s drinking water when drugs are flushed or not disposed of properly.

While his pharmacies are currently the only two county pharmacies participating in “Dispose My Meds,” others can be found online at www.disposemymeds.com, he said. If residents choose to bring their medications there for disposal, they need to make sure they are in their original containers, he said; however, drugs brought to the sheriff’s office and countywide Hazardous Waste Collection Days do not need to be in the original containers, though they should be contained somehow.

This year’s collection days will be from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 25 at the Appeal Landfill, Sept. 17 at the Mount Hope Community Center and Nov. 19 at the Appeal Landfill. But if residents have no other way of disposal and need to dispose of their prescription drugs immediately, Mallard said the medicine should be removed from its original container, the personal information removed from the container, the medicine mixed with a messy substance like coffee grounds or kitty litter and then placed in a nondescript container with a lid, or sealable bag, and discarded in the trash.

“If you can’t use these other resources, that is an alternative,” he said.

But the problem of prescription drug abuse is still alive and well, Calvert County Assistant State’s Attorney Frances Longwell said. In 2010, the sheriff’s office made 75 prescription drug-related arrests, and in 2011, as of April 28 it had made 45 arrests so far. From just January to April, Longwell’s office has handled 16 prescription drug cases in Circuit Court, 160 in District Court and two in Juvenile Court, and 21 percent of her office’s clients list opiates as their primary drug of choice, most commonly oxycontin.

“One child had a very bad car accident and his doctor prescribed him oxycontin, and he became addicted to it so the doctor took him off oxycontin,” Longwell said, but he stressed that it did not stop the problem. The boy still searches for ways to obtain oxycontin to feed his addiction. Many cases resemble this, she said, where the abuser became an addict “rather innocently.”

“I hope somebody is encouraging physicians to be more judicious about prescribing these medications,” Commissioners’ President Susan Shaw (R) said.

mrussell@somdnews.com