Dana Point introduces medicine ‘take back’ box in an effort to curb trending prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse
By Andrea Swayne
Cultural trends in fashion, business and technology continually reflect the changing preferences of society. It’s always been this way. Since the beginning of recorded history, people’s tastes and desires change in response to new developing technologies, media coverage, advertising and even as a response to “what the cool kids are doing.” Things are “in” then “out” then “in” again. Unfortunately, social problems like substance abuse also follow trends. And in the last decade, abuse of prescription and over-the-counter medications has been a growing trend among both teen and adult users.
The city of Dana Point has long held the belief that city-sponsored preventative measures can have a positive impact on drug abuse reduction in the community and, to that end, recently introduced a new tool—a medication drop-off box.
“Abuse of medication, both prescription and over-the-counter, has reached epidemic levels in the U.S. and unfortunately no city is completely immune to the dangerous trend,” said Dana Point Chief of Police Lt. Lynn Koehmstedt. “Drug abuse prevention is a high priority from the City Council to the city manager to police services. Our young people are part of a high risk group and the drug take back box is just one more thing we can do to help.”
In order to maintain as much presence at the high school as possible, the city provides funding for both a school intervention specialist and a school resource officer on campus.
“We want to be there as much as we can to provide services and give students access to assistance or to respond if they need us,” Koehmstedt said.
Since the 2008-2009 school year, Mike Darnold has been the on-campus go-to guy for teens who wish to discuss a problem with drugs or alcohol or as just to serve a trusted confidant for kids who need someone to talk to.
Darnold has noted trends in substance abuse among high school students follow those across the country and agrees that the take back box is a necessary tool to prevent easy access to prescription meds at home.
“The city brought me on board to create a place for kids to go, someone that kids can talk to, somebody with experience with drug addiction and substance abuse. My background is in medical treatment, detox facilities, hospitals and police service. I was a policeman for years and I am a recovering alcoholic and addict. I understand the problems kids bring to me and I am armed with the tools to help,” he said.
Darnold went on to say that his aim is to create a “three pronged” educational approach to drug abuse prevention.
“It goes beyond ‘just say no.’ The education piece helps parents, teachers and students with the support of the city and the school district. So if a child has a problem on campus, they can come to me confidentially. I don’t judge the kids for what they’re doing and my goal is to help the child come to grips with their issues and find them support—90 percent of the time with the help of the parents. When a child comes into my office my first objective is to listen without judgment, to help them identify that they have a problem and then to bring their parents on board to find the solution.”
Darnold cited a study by The Partnership at drugfree.org that shows a 565 percent increase in medicine abuse between 2000 and 2010 and that two thirds of kids who abuse prescription drugs get them from family members and friends.
“The drop-off box will go a long way toward reducing teens’ easy access to prescription meds. When I talk to kids who have problems with medicine abuse, they tell me they are obtaining these drugs in their homes, from their parents’ and grandparents’ medicine cabinets, or from friends who are getting them the same way,” Darnold said.
School resource officer, Deputy John Good said that drugs like marijuana and alcohol are relatively easy to find on campus due to the tell-tale odors they produce.
“Pills are small, odorless and hard to find,” he said, adding that he also agrees the take back box, if utilized by the community, could go a long way toward bucking the trend of “pill popping” among teenaged abusers.
A recent survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse showed that after marijuana, prescription and over-the-counter medications account for a majority of the drugs abused by twelfth-graders surveyed in 2012.
According to Koehmstedt the city has recorded five overdose deaths in the past five years (2007-2012) of persons 26 years or younger. Additionally, two overdose deaths occurred in victims in their early 40s, but this does not include the untold number of medical aid calls for overdoses not resulting in death.
These figures, when held up against inner city neighborhoods across the country, at first seem pretty low in comparison. But, because even one incident is too many, that does not deter city officials from taking a stance and continually searching for new ways to reduce drug abuse among residents.
Neither does the so called “double-edged sword” effect that the city’s efforts have on the public perception that drug problems are highly prevalent in Dana Point.
“As we come up with new ways to address these issues that exist in every community, a lot of times people see us doing this and are thinking perhaps it means that we have more of a problem than anyone else,” said Darnold. “We don’t. We have less of a problem because we do all these things. Our efforts are paying off in our high school.”
Last year Dana Hills Principal Jason Allemann provided figures that indicated that alcohol and drug incidents on campus were down by 76 percent, over the previous year.
“Clearly we are moving in the right direction,” said Good. “As a result of our efforts, both teachers and parents are now better able to notice signs of abuse.”
City Manager Doug Chotkevys recalled the old adage: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as he spoke of the city’s efforts to reduce drug abuse.
“As I get older, I’ve really come to appreciate that expression,” Chotkevys said. “Several years ago, the Dana Point City Council decided to publicly recognize that our youth are exposed to drugs and alcohol, and that problems arise because of that exposure. This is a problem in every community, across the United States and abroad. The difference in Dana Point is that we chose to publicly recognize it. We openly talked about the elephant in the room and we made investments to address this very common problem.”
Chotkevys called the new drug drop-off program a valuable extension of the services the city provides to continue addressing the city’s drug and alcohol issues.
“It is widely understood that easy access to prescription drugs by juveniles has had tragic results. Overdoses, car crashes and suicides are all too common effects of prescription drug abuse,” he said. “The reality is that prescription drugs are all too often overprescribed, with ‘leftovers’ stored in home medicine cabinets. It’s simply too easy. Our program is an inexpensive way not only to get the word out about the dangers of access to prescription drugs, but a simple way to properly dispose of them.”
Chotkevys added that the city also has an obligation to provide residents with an eco-friendly way of keeping these chemicals out of the waste stream, as flushing unused meds down the toilet or depositing them in landfills is environmentally irresponsible as well.
“My only regret is that we could not get this program in place sooner,” he said. “Now that it is available, I hope our residents will take advantage of this program.”
The City’s New Safe Medication Drop-off Box is Open for Business
- Unwanted, unused and expired prescription and over-the-counter medications will be accepted.
- No appointment is necessary and the service is safe, free and anonymous. No questions will be asked, no forms to fill out, just drop your medications in the box and you’re done.
- The box is located in the lobby at Dana Point Police Services, 33282 Golden Lantern, Suite 140, at Dana Point City Hall and is available Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Tuesday and Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
- No syringes, illicit drugs, medical waste, or hazardous waste will be accepted.
- For more information call 949.248.3531 or log on to www.danapoint.org.