When someone drops off unused prescription pills at a police department’s locked box, they might expect those drugs are carefully counted, weighed and watched until they are destroyed.
But that’s not always the case. While federal and state officials offer a plethora of recommendations on how to collect prescription drugs, there’s little, if any, oversight of how police departments handle these narcotics. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency only offers guidance on how to handle unused prescription drugs for twice-a-year collection events, and the Ohio Board of Pharmacy rarely enforces state rules on collecting unused prescription pills.
Meanwhile, thousands of Ohioans are dropping off unwanted, unused prescription pills at police stations to avoid theft or harming the environment. On just one take-back day in September, Ohioans disposed of 27,192 pounds of pills. Whether these drugs are carefully counted and destroyed depends largely on how well local police departments draft and follow their own policies.
The Licking County Sheriff’s Office has a drop box for unused prescription medications in the lobby of their building on East Main Street.
In places like Sandusky County, where departments had no policies — or loosely defined ones — on disposing of prescription pills, there’s opportunity for abuse. Several police chiefs there accused the sheriff of taking old and unused prescription pills collected from residents last year.
Between April and July, Sheriff Kyle Overmyer collected prescription pills from four local police departments. Police chiefs believed Overmyer was taking the drugs to the DEA for destruction. But a DEA spokesman denied any such agreement existed. Overmyer maintains he picked up the pills as a favor to the local departments. The sheriff’s drug collection is under investigation by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, and Overmyer denies any wrongdoing.
But how was this possible? Sandusky County Sheriff’s Office had no protocol on collecting prescription drugs until Aug. 20 — long after the pills reportedly were improperly collected. Fremont police didn’t have its own policy, but follows DEA recommendations outlined for drug take-back days, which happen twice a year.
Green Springs police stopped collecting prescription drugs in August, when chiefs realized Overmyer had picked up their prescription pills. Before that, the drugs were destroyed annually by neighboring Seneca County’s sheriff’s office, Chief Charles Horne said. Bellevue police implemented a policy Aug. 27, which includes partnering with the DEA to collect the drugs rather than the sheriff’s office.
“There was no policy in place dictating how the collected items were to be destroyed,” Bellevue police Chief Mark Kaufman said.
Ohio regulations spell out a few basics: check the collection box regularly so it doesn’t overflow, store prescription drugs in a way that prevents them from being stolen and keep records of removal, storage or destruction of drugs like an agency would for drugs seized from a crime scene. There’s no requirement to count or weigh drugs, although that might be part of local agencies’ policies. The Ohio Board of Pharmacy is tasked with enforcing these rules, but they rarely, if ever, receive complaints.
“I know of no violations that have occurred,” said Jesse Wimberly, an agent with the Ohio Board of Pharmacy.
Law enforcement officers are required to report missing or stolen drugs to the DEA and state pharmacy board. The Ohio Board of Pharmacy received 980 complaints of missing drugs in 2014 and 1,467 in 2015. But it’s not clear how effective these self-reporting requirements are. The state pharmacy board has no record of the misplaced drugs from Sandusky County, despite an Ohio Attorney General’s Office investigation.
At the national level, the DEA offers recommendations on how to collect, store and destroy prescription pills, including having two employees present when drugs are removed from bins. But those rules apply only to twice-a-year drug take-back events where police, pharmacists, hospital officials and members of local service groups offer to collect prescription pills — often around the community instead of at the police station, DEA spokesman Rich Isaacson said.
When Joe Smith drops off his grandmother’s unused prescription medications on a Wednesday afternoon, the DEA has no oversight. Only local departments’ policies apply, Isaacson confirmed.
The DEA’s guidelines are “very loose” and offer little guidance on whether to turn over pills to another agency, said Gibsonburg police Chief Paul Whitaker, president of the Police Chiefs Association of Sandusky County.
Even the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators, which provides drug collection boxes to police departments, has some tips on how to collect drugs. But it’s just a suggestion that police departments weigh medication and dispose of the drugs like other seized property.
Still, Isaacson said it makes sense that local police would oversee their own prescription drug collection. Most agencies already have policies in place to destroy drugs seized from crimes.
Ohio Attorney General’s Office spokesman Dan Tierney, citing the pending investigation, declined to comment on whether Sandusky County police departments needed better oversight. But there’s a value to local control, he said.
“In general, the reason for leaving individual guidelines up to each agency is that different agencies will necessarily have different volumes of dropped off medications,” Tierney said. “For example, a drop box in Franklin County will likely have a higher volume of drop-offs and will likely need emptied far more often than a drop box at a rural township police department.”
Published by newarkadvocate.com