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Published June 30 2010

Prescription take-back program expands in North Dakota

DICKINSON – Western North Dakota, it’s time to empty out those medicine cabinets.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem expanded the state’s prescription drug take-back program to Dickinson on Tuesday.

Residents can now bring leftover medications to the Law Enforcement Center at any hour and drop them off in a marked container in the lobby.

Since these medications aren’t supposed to be flushed or thrown in the garbage, the new program solves a problem for people previously unsure what to do with them, Stenehjem said.

But more importantly for law enforcement, the program is an attempt to crack down on the state’s prescription drug abuse problem aided by forgotten medications swiped from medicine cabinets.

“We’re seeing a lot of people who are in treatment who are addicted to pain medications,” Stenehjem said. “These are medications that, for some people, are a godsend. They’re a miracle. They also have a high potential for abuse.”

Those abusing and dealing drugs will steal prescription drugs from their relatives’ or friends’ medicine cabinets unnoticed because the medications are often old and forgotten, Stenehjem said.

The problem is so serious in the state that, when word got out that a North Dakota high school student was having her wisdom teeth out, people started coming up to her asking to buy her painkillers, Stenehjem said.

New statistics find 13.3 percent of North Dakota high school students reported taking over-the-counter drugs to get high at least one time in the past year, Stenehjem said. About 5 percent of middle school students reported doing so.

The street price for one pill can be as high as $100, he said.

“The mark-up is enormous. The temptation to abuse it or sell it can be just incredible,” Stenehjem said.

So far, the take-back program has collected 674 pounds of prescription drugs from containers in Fargo/West Fargo, Grand Forks, Minot and Bismarck, said Liz Brocker, a spokeswoman in the Attorney General’s Office. The medication is then properly destroyed.

“This has been very successful across the state of North Dakota,” Stenehjem said. “I had no idea the amount of demand there would be for it.”

Stark County Sheriff Clarence Tuhy said law enforcement isn’t going to keep track of who brings in medications and how much. The focus is simply to get prescription drugs off the streets, he said.

“This will be a good thing to do,” he said. “We just hope we get it (the container) filled up.”

Dickinson Police Chief Chuck Rummel said residents from surrounding cities are also welcome to drop off their medications.

Stenehjem said the program will continue to expand to additional law enforcement centers across the state in the coming months.

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.