Police departments in the Tri-Lakes will participate in National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day this Saturday.
The Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake village police departments will open their doors from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to anyone who wants to turn in expired, unused or unwanted prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
The take-back event is free and completely anonymous, according to Lake Placid police Chief Bill Moore.
"No questions asked," he said. "You come in, and there will be a bin, and you just dump the prescription medications in."
Moore said the program, which was launched by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, has been a resounding success. Last October, 3,945 take-back sites nationwide took in nearly 400,000 pounds of prescription drugs. Essex County sites alone gathered about 100 pounds.
A 2009 national survey on drug use revealed that more Americans abuse prescription drugs than cocaine, hallucinogens and heroin combined.
"This problem touches the North Country," Moore said. "Abuse of medications is pervasive even in the Tri-Lakes area. Our police department, and Saranac Lake's, we are constantly making arrests for possessing prescription medications illegally."
Moore said illegally possessing prescription drugs is a class A misdemeanor. A conviction for possession can net someone up to a year in jail, he said.
And the penalty for selling prescription drugs is much worse.
"If you were to sell ... the lowest degree is a B felony, and we're talking about up to 20 years in jail, lifetime probation, thousands of dollars in fines," Moore said. "We're trying to discourage criminal behavior; that's just one of the reasons we're involved."
Moore said after local police departments collect the drugs, they get picked up by DEA agents and transported to a place where they're safely broken down and disposed of in an environmentally safe manner.
In the last two years, 10 deaths have occurred statewide due to accidental overdoses involving prescription drugs, according to New York State Police.
Moore said many people believe prescription drugs are safe because they're prescribed by a doctor.
"It's not the case," he said. "They're prescribed for a specific reason."
Saturday's take-back event isn't just about rounding up illegal prescription medications. Corrie Miller, director of the AuSable River Association, said in a press release that inappropriate disposal of medications can damage local water bodies.
"When you flush human or veterinarian drugs, they don't just go away; they show up in our streams and rivers," she said. "Trace pharmaceuticals, particularly those that mimic hormones, can decrease aquatic organisms' reproductive rates, delay their development and cause some species to develop extra appendages."
Saranac Lake police Sgt. Geoff Carmichael said his department is in the process of trying to become a year-round drop-off site for unwanted or expired prescription drugs. Many local drug stores only do it at certain times of the year, he said.
"It's hard for people to find a way to get rid of expired medications," Carmichael said. "The last thing you want is for old bottles of pills to sit around the house where they could be stolen or kids could get their hands on them."
For more information, visit www.dea.gov and click on the "Got Drugs?" link.
Senior Staff Writer Chris Knight contributed to this report