‘RX Turn-in’ events lead to permanent East Precinct collection box

See why authorities say that parents can unwittingly be their own kids’ “drug pushers”. And, find out the ONLY location in Portland where you can safely drop off unused prescription drugs every single weekday …

Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Neighborhood Response Team Sgt. Wendi Steinbronn shows ten of the many boxes of prescription medications, and other expired pills, collected at the Precinct’s 2011 “Prescription Drug Turn-in” event.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
For the last couple of years, East Portland News has brought you stories about how – and why – the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) and Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) has held “Prescription Drug Turn-in” events.

> To read about the 2009 event at Eastport Plaza, CLICK HERE. To see our story about the 2010 event in Gateway, CLICK HERE.

The 2011 “Prescription Drug Turn-in”, held on April 30 along NE 102nd Avenue in the Fred Meyer Gateway Shopping Center parking lot, was another success, said PPB Neighborhood Response Team Sgt. Wendi Steinbronn – as she showed us ten of the sealed-up cartons of discarded prescription medications, and other expired medications, collected that day.

East Precinct administrative specialist Arlene Martinez greets East Portland neighbor Bruce Junkin, as he drops off his unused medications – as does ONI Crime Prevention Specialist Jenni Bernheisel.

“We’re hearing a lot of stories about how their loved ones, now passed away, left behind a lot of unused medication,” Steinbronn said. One woman became emotional when she brought her departed husband’s medications. The sergeant said the woman told her, “My husband died in October, and I’ve just been keeping [these medications]; now I have a place to take them.”

Anytime that drugs – even those prescribed by a physician – fall into the wrong hands, it typically leads to problems dealt with by the Bureau, Steinbronn observed.

PPB East Precinct Officer Mike Honl shows how quickly a carton fills up with unused medications, at the 2011 event.

“There’s a slogan ‘You may be a drug dealer and not even know it, because of what is in your medicine cabinet’,” explained ONI Crime Prevention Specialist Jenni Bernheisel, who has organized these events in the past.

“Teenagers are accessing drugs in their friends’, parents’, and grandparents’ medicine cabinets,” Bernheisel added.  “We really want people to take the time to clean the cabinet out, and dispose of those potentially dangerous medications. This’s because there’s a myth among teens that it’s safe to experiment with prescription drugs, because they’re prescribed by a doctor. In fact they can be even more dangerous.”

Unlike past years, this particular event, Bernheisel told us, was sponsored by the US Drug Enforcement Agency – and was held in conjunction with that federal agency’s national event. “But, as in past years, all of the items we receive are incinerated – containers and all.”

ONI’s Jenni Bernheisel accepts a drive-up medication drop-off.

“Because, at events like these, we’ve found there is also an ongoing demand from the community to provide a safe disposal option for medications, in an effort to protect our waterways,” Bernheisel told us.

“We’ve come up with a way people can drop off their unused medications, five days a week,” Bernheisel smiled. “We’ll be announcing it in a few days.”

‘RX Drop Box’ pilot program installed at East Precinct

PPB Chief Michael Reese welcomes media to the announcement of Portland’s first prescription-drug “drop box” at East Precinct.

As promised, a couple of weeks later at East Precinct, we were invited to the unveiling of Portland’s first full-time prescription drug drop box on May 11. Portland media turned out for the event, hosted by PPB Chief Michael Reese; TV cameras and reporters packed the building’s lobby.

“I complement Jenni [Bernheisel] and the Office of Neighborhood Involvement for spearheading the effort to get these drop boxes into our precincts,” Chief Reese began.

“It is heartbreaking to see young people in our community taking drugs that have been left in their parents’ medicine cabinet, and becoming hooked on opiates,” Reese continued. “When they run out of prescription opiates, and can’t get more, they often turn to [street] heroin. We’re seeing heroin addiction spike in our community as a direct result.”

Talking about the pilot prescription-drug “drop box” program is ONI’s Jenni Bernheisel.

Bernheisel explained the drug turn-in program to reporters; and pointed to the public clamor from neighbors at turn-in events as showing the need for a regular, easy-to-use permanent drug turn-in site.

In addition to the problems of youth drug experimentation and addiction, Bernheisel also reminded that flushing medications, putting them in the garbage, or pouring them out on the lawn, hurts the environment.

“We’re keeping our waterways and aquifers cleaner in Portland by providing a safe disposal options for medications,” she said.

Bernheisel explained that the “MedReturn Prescription Drug Drop Box”, in the lobby of PPB East Precinct, is available anytime the lobby is open to the public, which is currently 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Acceptable items for deposit include:

  • Prescription medications and samples;
  • All over-the-counter medications,
  • Vitamins;
  • Pet medications;
  • Medicated ointments; and,
  • Liquid medication in leakproof containers.

Items not acceptable for deposit:

  • Thermometers/Sharps/Syringes;
  • IV bags;
  • Bloody or infectious waste;
  • Hydrogen peroxide;
  • Aerosol cans;
  • Inhalers; or
  • EpiPens.

“Medications that are put in the box will be incinerated via standard Portland Police protocol,” stated Bernheisel. “The drug drop box is not suitable for large quantities discarded by nursing or medical-care facilities.”

Under the watchful eye of video cameras, PPB East Precinct Commander Bill Walker helps neighbor Julie Skarphol dispose of her unused medications.

Two neighbors stopped by to dispose of their unused medications during the unveiling event, as if on cue. One visitor, Julie Skarphol, who toted one-year-old Isaac, also brought in a large box of medications.

“In our medicine cabinet, I had left over pain medication from surgeries,” Skarphol told us. “This is convenient, because I know not to dump them in the garbage or flush them down the drain – and I kept missing the drop-off events.”

As the camera crews packed up their gear, PPB East Precinct Commander Bill Walker was all smiles. “This is a really terrific opportunity to have a permanent drop-off location for medications, here in outer East Portland.”

If your house is burglarized, Walker pointed out, crooks often go directly to your medicine cabinet, looking for prescription medication. “We certainly don’t want people dumping their prescription and nonprescription medications down the toilet. But by dropping them off here, these get incinerated. It’s safer for the environment; and it makes for a safer community, overall.”

East Precinct is located at 737 SE 106th Avenue, just west of Floyd Light Middle School, and north of the East Portland Community Center.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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