By Kaytlyn L. Sheldon

Special to the Osceola Edition

Since 2000, more than 550 overdose and drug poisoning deaths have occurred in the Northern Michigan region alone.

Regional requests for treatment for prescription drug abuse have risen from approximately 500 in 2003 to more than 1,500 in 2010.

Prescription drug abuse is intentionally taking a medication that is not prescribed for you, or taking it for reasons or in dosages other than as prescribed. Using prescription drugs for the wrong reasons has serious risks for a person’s health, including vomiting, mood changes, decrease in ability to think, and even decreased respiratory function, addiction, coma, or death.

“Prescription drug abuse is the third leading cause of people entering into treatment here at Ten Sixteen Recovery Network,” says prevention coordinator Kim Livingston at the organization’s Big Rapids center.

The Network provides substance abuse treatment and prevention to Gladwin, Clare, Midland, Mecosta, Osceola and Isabella counties.

The Ten Sixteen Recovery Network and local law enforcement are hoping to make prescription drugs even harder for addicts and potential addicts to obtain.

“We’ve had community members asking for years what to do with their unwanted medications,” explained Livingston. “They were concerned about the environment and didn’t want to contaminate the water. Plus, knowing the risk of abuse is very real, they wanted to get it out of their homes.”

Medication collection boxes have recently been created to safely dispose of unwanted or unused prescription drugs. These boxes locations include Reed City Police Department, Osceola Sheriff’s Department, Mecosta Sheriff’s Department, Big Rapids Department of Public Safety, as well as Ferris State University Department of Public Safety.

“We are proud to team up with Ten Sixteen Network to provide a safe disposal site for unwanted, excess or expired medications which will keep those drugs away from people whom they were not intended to help and from their adversely impacting our environment,” says Captain James Cook, Assistant Director for the Ferris State University police.

Organizers ask that you please leave medications in pill bottles and remove the label, or place medications in a sealed container or bag. No needles or liquids are accepted. The collection boxes are emptied daily.

“These boxes are an excellent addition to our community because they allow for the removal of expired and unused prescription medications on a constant basis,” explained Mecosta County Sheriff Todd Purcell.

“I have people asking almost daily what they can do with unwanted and expired prescription drugs,” said Pattie Drug Pharmacist Mary Clark. “These receptacles will be a much needed answer for helping to deal with the problem.”

You can help prevent prescription drug abuse by not using a prescription that wasn’t prescribed for you and not sharing your medications with anyone else.

You should also monitor, secure, and dispose of your prescription drugs.

To monitor, take note of how many pills are in each prescription bottle or pill packet. Keep track of refills. If refilling medications happens more often than expected, this could indicate a problem.

“Prescription drug abuse is an issue, especially when children have access to the family medicine cabinet,” said Cook.

Approach securing prescriptions the same way you would other valuables in your home, like jewelry or cash. There’s no shame in helping protect those items. The same holds true for medication. Take prescription medications out of the medicine cabinet and hide them in a place only you know about. If possible, keep all medicines, both prescription and over-the-counter, in a safe place, such as a locked cabinet.

Safely disposing of expired or unused prescription medications is a critical step in preventing prescription drug abuse. Unless the directions on the packaging say otherwise, do not flush medication down the drain or toilet.

“A larger issue is disposal of medications that have reached the end of their effective date,” explains Cook. “Keeping our water supply safe by not adding those expired medications to the water supply by flushing them down a toilet or placing them in the land fill is a growing concern across the United States.”

Now is the time to clean out your medicine cabinets and properly dispose of all your unwanted or expired medications.

“As citizens, we are consumers of medications both over the counter and by prescription,” said Cook. “How we dispose of those medications has a direct impact on our environment.”

“Before, you were only able to dispose of these medications twice a year or by the harmful way of flushing them,” said Sheriff Purcell. “Now, with our collaboration with the Ten Sixteen Network, we have made it much easier for the proper disposal method at any time.”

All 31 counties of Northern Michigan have been working on safe medication disposal and educating the community on prescription drug abuse by providing free trainings. For more information or to request a presentation, you can go to www.drugfreenorthernmichigan.com or call Livingston at the Ten Sixteen Recovery Network in Big Rapids at (231) 527-2000.

“I ask all citizens to pass the word, to friends and relatives, about these collection sites,” added Sheriff Purcell. “We need to clean up collectively.”