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LOCKPORT – Since the City of Lockport began participating in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Adminstrations’ National Prescription Drug Take Back Day four years ago, it has become one of the top two collection sites in Western New York.

The drives here became so successful that the city put in a permanent drop box that is now open 24 hours a day.

So far, the permanent box has collected nore than 500 pounds of unwanted prescription pills, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, said Lockport Police Chief Lawrence Eggert.

The box, which looks like a mailbox, is mounted permanently so that it cannot be moved and is located inside the Lockport Police Department. Funding for the box was provided by the New York State Department of Health.

“When we first put this box in it was filling up every other day,” said Eggert. “I helped an older woman with two shopping bags full of prescription drugs who wanted to know what to do with them and I just told her, ‘Follow me.’”

He said nursing homes, hospice and families who have lost loved ones to long-term illnesses, such as cancer, are taking advantage of the permanent disposal box.

“Before we had the box we had to turn people away. We had no way to legally take them. Now we have another tool – 24/7,” Eggert said.

The success of the program can be observed with a quick look around the locked evidence room, now filled with expired, unwanted and unused prescription drugs, stored in more than a dozen sealed boxes that pile up to the ceiling.

He said the drugs are taken by police to an undisclosed business, which incinerates them.

“We will actually take them there, put them in a furnace, and watch them be burned,” Eggert said of the precautions.

Eggert said no needles are collected, but it is something they will be considering in the future.

The DEA has collected hundreds of millions of pounds of unwanted prescription drugs at drop-offs across the nation according to their website.

“Every year the number of pounds goes up,” Eggert said. He blamed some of the increases on doctors prescribing increasingly larger quantities of narcotics than they used to 10 years ago.

“It is super easy for someone to take a few tablets from grandma’s medicine cabinet and her bottle containing 250 pills without anyone noticing,” Eggert said.

He said because many of these pills are morphine-based they are very addictive, especially for teens.

“Once they run out of their supply they can’t afford the pills on the street and turn to heroin. It is a self-made problem,” Eggert said.

“Unfortunately we see more prescription drugs on the street than we do crack cocaine. The only thing we see more of is marijuana,” Eggert said.

He said doctors are starting to see the problem, but there are also environmental issues regarding disposal.

“The only option for disposal is for people to flush them down the toilet or throw them in the garbage or illegally sell them, which started to happen more and more frequently. By having this drop off you are addressing landfill issue, lake water pollution where they have been finding detectable levels and obviously it takes it off the street,” he said.

Eggert said he believes that environmental sensitivity is a big part of why people are making the efforts to dispose of pharmaceuticals properly.

“Lockport is a city of only 22,000. I don’t think people realize how civic-minded people are in this area,” Eggert said of their success.

On April 27, the city will join with hundreds of other sites across the nation for the DEA’s next National Prescription Drug Take Back Day which will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Lockport Plaza parking lot, 338 South Transit St.

Anyone who wants to participate is asked to remain in their cars and prescriptions will be collected in buckets by police and volunteers. Four armed officers will provide security escorts at the drop-off.

“Please do not get out of your cars,” said organizer Capt. Michael Niethe of the Lockport Police Department. “The wait time is usually less than a minute.”

He said 23 sites in the Buffalo area will be collecting prescriptions, no questions asked, on April 27, including three other sites in Niagara County at: Mount St. Mary’s Hospital, 5300 Military Road, Lewiston, which is being collected by the Niagara County Sheriff Department; DeGraff Memorial Hospital, 445 Tremont St., collected by the North Tonawanda Police Department; and Niagara Falls Police, who will collect at the former Public Safety Building, 520 Hyde Park Boulevard.

A full list of collection sites will be made available Monday on the DEA website: www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/takeback/

email: nfischer@buffnews.com