Operation Medicine Drop reaches milestone in York County

York County residents who for more than four years have tossed unwanted and unused pills in green bins helped contribute to more than 2 million doses of medication collected since local law enforcement, school officials and agency leaders started a drive to keep painkillers and opiates out of the hands of children and addicts.

Members of the county’s 45-member All On Board Coalition and several law enforcement agencies gathered outside Moss Justice Center Wednesday morning, hailing a “milestone” that saw 2,019,668 doses of pills dropped into metal green boxes stationed at seven police departments countywide as part of Operation Medicine Drop.

The number, emblazoned on a banner, now hangs in front of the York County law center. The coalition, assigned to help prevent drug and alcohol abuse in the county, helped start Operation Medicine Drop in 2009. Which was at a time the county saw a surge in prescription drug abuse among teens, notably those living in affluent areas such as Fort Mill and Tega Cay. Their goal then was to collect up to 2 million disposed pills within five years.

They did it in four and a half.

“We are unashamedly bragging today about our accomplishment,” said Bob Norwood, All On Board’s executive director.

When the drop started, officials counted more than 100,000 doses of medication placed in the boxes at five BiLo stores on the two days residents were encouraged to participate. Coalition members decided to put the boxes at seven police departments in the county, and then later to solicit for the medicine year-round, said Winthrop University Police Chief Frank Zebedis, All On Board chairman.

“Hopefully, this program will continue to grow and we can take prescription pills off the streets that don’t need to be there,” Zebedis said. “Hopefully, this is just the start of the next 2 million.”

Citing studies from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and MetLife Foundation, 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett said teen abuse and misuse of prescription drugs has gone up by 33 percent since 2008.

“In the time that it takes us to hold this press conference, two kids will report to the emergency room with overdoses,” Brackett said.

The drugs teens and young adults are using, he said, include Oxycontin, Oxycodone, “things you take when you sprain your ankle ... you take them home, you may take them for a few days, then the pain abates and you just stick them up in your cabinet and forget about them.”

“You’ve forgotten about them,” he said, “but your kids haven’t.”

“The first dealer that they deal with is not some shady guy out in an alley, the first dealer that they deal with is mom or dad, grandma or grandpa,” said Brackett, urging parents and guardians to safeguard their painkillers from teens who might think the drugs are safe to take “because they’re not crack cocaine.”

“They think that because they come from a nice bottle from a pharmacy, these must be all right,” he said.

Instead, teens “quickly become addicted to the drugs because they’re opiates, based on the same thing opiates and morphine are based on,” he said.

Prescription drug and alcohol abuse continues to afflict teens in York County, said Corree Carelock, prevention director at Keystone Substance Abuse Center in Rock Hill.

Abusing painkillers is “very much a problem in York County,” said Carelock, adding that the treatment center has received reports of teenage students swarming around classmates with injuries, hoping to get a sample of their meds.

“Take the unused medications and get rid of them in a safe matter,” Brackett implored, warning residents not to flush them down the toilet so as to avoid contaminating groundwater. “Please help us get these pills off the streets and out of the hands of kids because we can’t do it alone.”

York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant lauded the county’s collection efforts before explaining that the coalition met all four of its goals outlined when Operation Medicine Drop started. Those goals included: getting prescription drugs “out of the hands of our teenagers,” educating the community about disposing of unused and unwanted prescription pills, educating the public about the permanent drop boxes and collecting 2 million doses.

“I don’t think we can do anything more important than fighting drugs,” Bryant said. “We've taken these harmful drugs – deadly drugs – out of the hands of our children, and that’s what we should all be proud of.”