By STEVEN VIERA
HAZLET — Police are prescribing a healthy dose of prevention to curb addiction and abuse of prescription medications.
On Aug. 30, the Hazlet Township Police Department announced its participation in the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs’ (DCA) Project Medicine Drop, an initiative designed to address the opioid epidemic by giving residents the opportunity to safely dispose of their prescription medications.
Project Medicine Drop allows residents to bring unused or expired medicines to a secure drop box located at the police station and anonymously discard them, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Evidence Custodian Robert Dispenza explained that, once deposited, the police pack the medications into special bags, weigh them and transport them to a facility in Linden for destruction in a secure and environmentally responsible manner.
According to the DCA’s website, more Americans die from overdoses on opioids than from cocaine and heroin combined, and every day, 2,500 youths take a prescription pain reliever as a way of getting high for the first time.
“Ninety-five percent of the cases — and again, that’s an estimate — that our detectives handle are directly related to drug abuse, specifically opiates, whether it be burglaries, assaults, as well as lower crimes like criminal mischief,” Hazlet’s Detective Bureau Commander Lieutenant Ted Wittke said. “Normally, it’s someone trying to get money for drugs.”
Participation in Project Medicine Drop gives the police a tool beyond simple enforcement to help protect the community from substance abuse.
“We’re excited about this program [because] it’s more of a proactive approach where we’re hitting it from another angle, as a prevention measure, by letting people safely dispose of these medications before they get into the hands of teenagers and adults in our community who may abuse them,” Wittke said.
Hazlet also has a mobile drop box, which the police plan on bringing to public events and senior communities in order to expand the reach of the program.
Project Medicine Drop came to Hazlet thanks to the efforts of Isiah Jones, project director for the Prevention Coalition of Monmouth County (PCMC), who worked with Wittke and the DCA’s Drug Initiative Coordinator and Law Enforcement Liaison Douglas Collier.
“I’m excited that we are taking positive steps to reducing — hopefully eradicating — this opiate problem,” Jones said.
Project Medicine Drop is already active in 200 municipalities in New Jersey. A full list of drop boxes around the state, organized by county, is available on the DCA’s website at www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/meddrop.