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To combat drug abuse, clean out your medicine cabinet

As the scourge of drug addiction continues to grab headlines, Boston Medical Center and dozens of police departments around the state will try to help get prescription drugs off the street on Saturday — by first getting them out of medicine cabinets.

The 10th annual National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, sponsored by the US Drug Enforcement Administration along with state and local agencies, invites people to drop off unwanted, expired, and leftover medications between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

There will be more than 170 dropoff sites in Massachusetts this year, mostly at police stations, but also including town halls, senior centers, and pharmacies. A list can be found at DEA.gov or mass.gov/dph, or by calling 800-882-9539.

All types of prescription drugs will be accepted (except for liquids and needles). But the effort is especially important in the fight against opioid abuse because most people who misuse painkillers do not get the drugs from their doctors.


“Most people who abuse prescription opioids get them from a friend or relative,” said Colleen Labelle, a nurse who directs Boston Medical Center’s Office-Based Addiction Treatment Program. “That’s often when the whole thing starts — kids are going to ‘pill parties,’ they’re told to bring something, and they reach into the medical cabinet.”

And the medicine cabinets often contain leftover painkillers that people save for future use or neglect to discard.

Governor Charlie Baker, who will announce Take-Back Day at a State House event on Friday, urged all Massachusetts residents “to open their medicine cabinets and take advantage of this convenient and effective program in your communities. Medications can be misused, and as we’ve seen with the opioid crisis, the results can be deadly.”

Baker’s Opioid Working Group had recommended promoting drug take-back events as part of the state’s effort to combat overdose deaths.

Only one in five people who misused prescription painkillers obtained the drugs from their doctor, according to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health . Just over half got the drugs for free from a friend or family member, and the rest obtained them by stealing or buying them illegally, the survey found.


Boston Medical Center is the only hospital in Massachusetts participating this year, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Sebastian Hamilton, director of outpatient pharmacy services, said the hospital got involved because most drop-offs are at police stations and “some people just don’t feel comfortable about law enforcement.”

Anyone can drive up or walk up to the hospital’s Menino building, where pharmacists, nurses, and volunteers will accept drugs, Hamilton said. Clinicians will be available to discuss addiction recovery services and how to obtain and use the overdose-reversing drug naloxone, sold at many pharmacies.

The drugs people drop off will eventually be incinerated. Disposing of them by flushing them down the toilet is not recommended because the drugs can get into the water supply.

Felice J. Freyer can be reached at felice.freyer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @felicejfreyer