An increasing awareness of how easily today's powerful medications can be abused has fueled a nationwide effort to collect and dispose of unused prescription drugs.
Those efforts largely were confined to one-day collections, but Buckingham Township residents don't have to wait until the next collection date any longer.
The township police department now offers a safe, secure drug disposal drop-off that can be accessed at any time.
Buckingham has installed a Med-Return drug collection unit in the lobby of the police station, which is part of the township building at 4613 Hughesian Dr.
Township residents may safely dispose of unwanted prescription and over-the-counter medications 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
And plenty of them have been putting the new drop box to good use since it was installed in November.
"Everybody is really thrilled. There’s definitely been a great response," said Lynn Crawford, police clerk with the Buckingham police department. "At least every other day, someone’s coming in to use it."
With the new box, Buckingham becomes the newest township to join other local police departments offering the service.
The first permanent medication drop box in Bucks County was installed by Quakertown Borough Police Department in April 2011, according to Melanie Swanson, prevention specialist with The Council of Southeast Pennsylvania Inc.
The permanent drop boxes grew out of one-day collection events held nationwide as part of the National Take-Back Initiative. Coordinated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the collections are implemented in towns across the country by local police departments and other agencies.
Now, 21 drop boxes can be found across Bucks County, Swanson said, with another on the way for Perkasie.
In Central Bucks, the boxes can be found at the Bucks County Courthouse and police departments in Doylestown, New Britain, and Warwick townships, as well as at the Plumstead Township Building.
Swanson said the initiative expanded rapidly thanks to positive community response and cost sharing. The Bucks County District Attorney’s office usually contributes about one third of the cost of the box, she said, and municipalities or sponsors or donors cover the rest. Sponsors have included Lower Southampton Rotary Club, Attleboro Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, St. Mary Hospital, Lower Bucks Hospital, Janney Montgomery Scott and others.
In Buckingham's case, Crawford said the DA's office contributed about $100 and an anonymous sponsor donated the remaining $900 needed to cover the cost of the unit.
Getting expired or leftover drugs out of area medicine cabinets achieves two goals, officials say.
First, it helps reduce prescription drug misuse. Area drug counselors say many Bucks County teens first dabble with drugs by experimenting with medications they find at home.
It also protects the environment, since drugs that are flushed down the toilet or thrown in the trash are increasingly finding their way into our water supply.
In 1999-2000, a first of its kind federal study tested 139 streams in 30 states for drugs and hormones. Eight out of 10 of the streams sampled harbored at least one contaminant, while seventy-five percent contained two or more.
The community response to the boxes has been extremely positive, Swanson said, adding that police departments report that the boxes are filled quickly, and citizens express gratitude to have a local location to safely dispose of their medications.
"Many parents and grandparents do not wish to have unwanted, unneeded or expired medications in their home that can be accessed by children and teens," Swanson said Wednesday. "Others know that the medications can pollute the water supply when flushed down the toilet, or will ultimately end up in a landfill if thrown in the trash."
Since the inception of the Take Back Initiative in Bucks County, Swanson said officials have collected more than eight tons of medications.