Poppin' pills

In a small town, a mother receives a call at work. She needs to come to the high school right away. They have her 15-year-old son Brett in the office. He was caught with a bag of pills. As she’s driving to the school, numerous thoughts run through her...


“New medications can do great things and also do great harm,” states James McDonough, former director of the Florida Office of Drug Control and secretary of the Department of Corrections. “Easy access makes them much more popular and easy to use. It camouflages the stigma of going into a dark alley to shoot up. All you’re doing is going into Grandma’s medicine cabinet and taking some of her pills.” Florida, particularly Broward County, has the No. 1 problem in the country for prescription drugs. BSO recognized the problem and took steps to combat it, including implementing Operation Medicine Cabinet, a program designed to increase education and awareness as well as offer community events for collection of unused prescription medication.

“Prescription drugs essentially are good for what they’re intended for, but the abuse is very lethal,” explains Sara Oren of BSO External Affairs and liaison for Operation Medicine Cabinet. “In our county alone in 2009, we saw seven deaths caused by heroin, 26 by cocaine and 462 caused by prescription drugs. So, it’s a big problem.” Oxycodone deaths totaled 1,185 in 2009, a 249-percent increase from 2005.

“Some use it for recreation,” explains Oren. “Some become addicted because they had a legitimate injury.” A major concern is the age range the problem affects, which can be “anyone from teens to 45,” states Oren. “There is no specific population. That is a problem because it has a wide audience.”

Operation Medicine Cabinet provides educational opportunities for the community. “It’s geared to the public, parents, school administrators and health care professionals,” explains Oren. “We want them to know not to just prescribe things. Make sure they have problems. The educational programs we give can be to a homeowners association or to schools. The idea is to educate people there is a problem. Operation Medicine Cabinet focuses on cleaning out your medicine cabinets. Kids are getting these things from their parents, grandparents and friend’s parents. This is where the problem started for teens.” Operation Medicine Cabinet focuses on a three-prong approach: a law enforcement effort, Take-Back programs and education.

Take-Back events

Last year, President Obama signed the Safe and Secure Drug Disposal Act of 2010, which allowed the DEA to develop a process for people to dispose of unwanted medication legally. These “Take-Back” events now occur nationally in a variety of locations including in Broward County. Initially, Broward Sheriff’s Office planned to hold one event a month, or once a quarter. Due to success of the events, the agency is now doing a couple per month.

Since the programs started, Operation Medicine Cabinet has collected almost 32,000 dosage units of controlled narcotics and more than 180,000 dosage units of non-controlled drugs. Nationally on April 30, Take-Back events were held in 5,361 locations in 50 states and more than 188 tons of unwanted medications were collected.


Along with education, an important component of combating prescription drug abuse is through the use of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs). A PDMP is a state-wide electronic database that collects designated data on substances dispensed in the state. The data is distributed to authorized individuals. According to the DEA Office of Diversion Control, PDMPs assist healthcare and law enforcement agencies address prescription drug abuse, addiction and diversion. “Prescription drug monitoring systems are working,” says McDonough, formerly Florida’s Office of Drug Control director. “It helps decrease doctor shopping. A doctor can check to see if the patient has other prescriptions. It’s a way to check on the degree of prescription drugs coming out of a particular location. It takes a look at the clinics themselves. Are they legitimate or are they pill mills? It pretty much stops the problem at the source before it gets out and saves law enforcement the dilemma of backtracking.”

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