Putting unused medicine in the right hands

Cabarrus County Sheriff's Deputy Kevin Klinglesmith wants you to clean out your medicine cabinet.

And during the past seven months, residents have done so, bringing Klinglesmith bottles and sometimes grocery bags full of drugs.

Klinglesmith heads up Cabarrus County's Operation Medicine Drop, a safe and secure way for residents to dispose of unused prescriptions or over-the-counter medications.

Klinglesmith launched the program in March, hosting several drop-off events for locals to bring in their unused drugs. Since then, officers have collected more than 75,000 pills.

About 44 percent of those pills were prescription drugs. Of the rest, 38 percent were over-the-counter medications, 11 percent were unknown medications and 7 percent were controlled substance medications.

The program will host two collection dates next week at churches in Kannapolis and Harrisburg.

Klinglesmith hopes to gather as many unused drugs as possible to prevent them from getting into the wrong hands - hands that could get behind the wheel of a car.

Klinglesmith, who has worked with the county sheriff's office for more than seven years, deals mostly with people suspected of driving under the influence. He's the department's only certified drug recognition expert.

When an officer pulls over someone suspected of driving under the influence, the officer administers a breath alcohol test. If the results are negative but the officer suspects that the driver could be under the influence of drugs, an expert is called in.

Klinglesmith is trained to identify drug use by checking vital signs such as blood pressure to help determine whether someone is impaired or suffering from a medical issue.

In Cabarrus County, Klinglesmith has noticed a rise in the number of DUI cases.

Klinglesmith said prescription drug abuse is a growing problem because some people have become too dependent on prescriptions. Some people "doctor shop," meaning they go from doctor to doctor asking for pain medication, he said.

"Everybody wants to feel good everyday," he said. "What starts out as taking a pill to make you feel better sometimes leads to misuse, and then that misuse turns into abuse."

During the past18 months, the Cabarrus County Sheriff's Office has dealt with at least 42 cases involving prescription fraud, doctor shopping and illegally buying or selling prescriptions.

Klinglesmith is also concerned about statistics that show prescription drug abuse is growing among teens.

Every day, an average of 2,500 teens use prescription drugs to get high for the first time, according to statistics released by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in August. Sixty-three percent of teens think prescription drugs are easy to get from friends' and family's medicine cabinets, and two in five teens believe prescription drugs are safer than illegal drugs.

But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prescription opioid painkillers, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, were involved in more overdose deaths in 2007 than heroin and cocaine combined.

The DEA recently promoted its first National Take-Back Day, a nationwide initiative to collect unwanted prescription drugs. Nearly 3,000 state and local law enforcement agencies participated at about 4,000 collection sites across the country on Sept. 25.

Take-back programs have also been heralded as a way to protect the environment. Low levels of pharmaceuticals have been found in national water systems, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that people take advantage of take-back programs rather than flushing their drugs, which could contribute to contaminated waters.

The bottles are cleaned and donated, and the drugs are destroyed in an incinerator.

Many of the turned-in pills come from elderly people or people who are disposing of a family member's drugs after they have died.

"It's not the addicts or abusers coming in," said Klinglesmith. "But it prevents friends and family from getting to it."