By Dylan Deprey
As the end of Labor Day weekend emitted its last summer rays of 2016, a villainous shadow darkened the days following. Over the course of the weekend 13 people had died of drug overdoses. Heroin, opioids and prescription drugs, some mixed with alcohol, all showed up repeatedly in the medical examiner’s report.
Almost three months later and two years in the making, the City of Milwaukee has announced a first of its kind government/private partnership Drug Mail Back Program to prevent old prescription drugs from getting onto the streets and in the waterways.
Primary legislation sponsor Ald. Jim Bohl announced the two-year pilot program on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016.
The program involves multiple partnerships with the city of Milwaukee including: CVS Pharmacy, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewer District (MMSD), City of Cudahy, Department of Justice, DEA, US Bank and USPS.
“This is a partnership that reaches multiple layers, multiple communities, and it’s all provided for the ability to provide safe and clean disposal of prescription drugs,” Bohl said.
Ten CVS Pharmacies, MMSD’s administrative office, and the Milwaukee and Cudahy police department precincts will provide free tamper-proof mail back envelopes for anyone to properly dispose of old or unused prescriptions.
The discreet plastic envelopes are pre-addressed to Milwaukee and Cudahy police departments, where they will be stored, until properly sent through the DEA and Wisconsin DOJ to be incinerated.
Along with the locations, CVS will also provide funding and printing for the envelopes. The City of Milwaukee paid to establish the mailing account, MMSD is providing the funding for the mailing cost and US Bank is absorbing any ongoing banking costs.
Although throwing unused or old prescriptions in the toilet sounds correct, according to MMSD Executive Director Kevin Shafer its far from the truth.
“You should not flush or pour old medicine into the sewer system. Our water reclamation facilities are not designed to remove them and they can end up in Lake Michigan,” Shafer said.
Since 2006, MMSD has collected almost 24 tons’ worth of prescriptions through their voluntary drop-off program. Shafer said that this was just an evolution of what MMSD has been doing to protect the community and environment.
While prescription drugs leeching into our water is one issue, the growing number of opioid overdoses is set to surpass last year.
A study by the Medical College of Wisconsin, released Nov. 30, stated that Milwaukee County was on pace to “significantly eclipse” its 231 heroin and opiate overdoses from 2015.
In a statement Ald. Murphy said, “It’s alarming because the issue is getting more attention than ever before, and yet still the rate of overdoses is climbing.”
Although teens and adults may not see heroin in their future, dabbling in prescription painkillers can be a one-way ticket to opiate and heroin addiction.
Health Commissioner Bevan Baker said that it starts with the healthcare provider. Whether it a pediatrician or an oral surgeon, he said it was their responsibility to counsel patients and prescribe the right dosage.
“We got this way because of overprescribing,” Baker said.
He added that Milwaukee creating the first free prescription mail drop off was an opportunity to break down barriers to put people in a position, who may not have access.
“We have jumped over two hurdles today. One is we have educated the community, and two we have made it a no cost issue.” Baker said. “Now we just need to follow through.”