It is not every day that the average person gets a chance to save lives, but that can be the case on Saturday with Operation Medicine Cabinet VI.
It is very simple to participate. All a person has to do is find prescription medications that are no longer needed and carry them to one of the OMC booths set up in the county. A law enforcement officer will take them — with no questions asked and no personal identification needed. Participants may just hand them over, and in turn an officer will hand you a gift certificate to Walmart, drink coupons and other gifts (while supplies last). There are also four $50 Walmart gift cards that will be given away. It's that easy.
The following locations will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
•The front entrance parking lot of Saline Memorial Hospital with the Benton Police Department
•Ferguson's Furniture Company, located at the corner of Military Road and Ferguson Drive, with the Benton Police Department
•Target at Alcoa Exchange shopping center parking lot, with the Bryant Police Department
•Harvest Foods parking lot, located at 20383 Arch St. in East End, with the Saline County Sheriff's Office
•East Gate entrance of Hot Springs Village with the Saline County Sheriff's Office
•Haskell Police Department at 2520 Arkansas 229
•Alexander Municipal Complex at 15605 Alexander Road.
For more locations in Arkansas, visit www.artakeback.org .
"It's not just about the number of prescription drugs we collect at the events," said Lt. Kevin Russell of the Benton Police Department. "Sometimes you can't measure success by an abstract number, because we can't know how many lives we are saving, but we know we are. Anytime we can get any pills off the streets and out of potential abusers' hands, it is a great success. But most importantly, if we can save lives, we've achieved our ultimate goal."
That is the main focus of the law enforcement agencies participating in OMC: saving lives. But to show real numbers, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health survey approximately 67,500 people each year concerning illegal drug use.
The results show that in 2011, there were 6.1 million people age 12 or older that had used prescription medications non-medically in the past month, "meaning they had used illicit drugs during the month prior to the survey interview."
"Among persons aged 12 or older in 2010-2011 who used pain relievers non-medically in the past 12 months, 54.2 percent got the drug they most recently used from a friend or relative
for free," the NSDUH said. "Another 18.1 percent reported they got the drug from one doctor. Only 3.9 percent got pain relievers from a drug dealer or other stranger, and 0.3 percent bought them on the Internet."
The survey also indicated that "among those who reported getting the pain relievers from a friend or relative for free, 81.6 percent reported in a follow-up question that the friend or relative had obtained the drugs from just one doctor."
And then there is another alarming statistic. "In 2011, 9.4 million persons aged 12 or older reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs during the past year. In 2011, the rate was highest among young adults aged 18 to 25 (11.6
"The main thing that I would like people to understand is, although they have a valid prescription and are taking it like a doctor says, you can't just assume that you are OK to go out and drive," Sgt. Jimmy Long of the Bryant Police Department said. "People need to read the warnings on the (medicine) bottle. Your average person knows that if they drink a six-pack of beer or something, they don't need to get out and drive. But sometimes it doesn't register to people that they can't get out and drive after taking certain medications."
He added, "I think people have this misconception that their doctor said it is OK to be taking medicines and drive. And that is an excuse that (officers) have heard. We've stopped people before, and they just couldn't balance or couldn't even hardly stand up straight, and they'll sit there the whole time and say 'My doctor said I can take these.' That doesn't mean you can drive. Everyone needs to hold themselves accountable."
Long said though there is "definitely" a problem with people of all ages abusing medications, all people need to realize the dangers of getting behind the wheel after taking certain medications. He said through the years the DWI arrest rates of increased, and numerous are due to someone intoxicated on medications.
"Some of these people had no intentions of going out and driving and getting a DWI," Long said. "People may not always know how a medication is going to affect them. Maybe they took (medicine) and suddenly had to leave their home for whatever reason, and it didn't click to them that 'Hey, this may be something I don't need to do.' You don't actually have to be abusing prescriptions, because we've seen people take medications like they are supposed to, but the problem is they will get out and drive … they are still impaired to the point where they cannot operate a vehicle safely."
Those that drop off the prescription medications at OMC on Saturday will also significantly help the environment, said Cecillea Pond-Mayo, public information officer for the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. She said in homes that use septic tanks, prescription and over-the-counter drugs flushed down the toilet can seep into ground water.
She also said that in cities and towns where residences are connected to wastewater treatment plants, prescription and over-the-counter drugs poured down the sink or flushed down the toilet can pass through the treatment system and enter rivers and lakes.
"They may flow downstream to serve as sources for community drinking water supplies," Pond-Mayo said. "Water treatment plants are not equipped to routinely remove medicines, so the drugs literally pass right through the system. Even expired medication has an impact on aquatic life."
If a person is not able to drop off medications at OMC, there is a 24-hour dropbox located in front of the Benton Police Department, 114 S. East St. And just like at the event on Saturday, if you drop off medicines at the police department, there will be no questions asked by officers, unless requested.
"By continuing to educate our (residents), our intention is to continue leading the state in future drug take-back events and see a decrease in the amount of injuries and deaths associated with their misuse," Russell said. "Just a reminder, approximately 70 percent of all prescription drugs illegally obtained are taken from people’s homes and not pharmacies or off the street. The numbers reported from the Saline County Coroner's office that attribute deaths to prescription drug abuse are still lower than they were three years ago, but our desire is to see zero (prescription-drug-)related deaths in our community."
Russell said another ongoing project of the police department is partnering with the Christian Community Care Clinic, "to assist them with items they need … (to) provide free medical care and dental extractions to Saline County residents who have no health or dental insurance.
For additional information about prescription drug abuse and helpful links, visit www.artakeback.org  — a website that was developed and is funded by the Benton Police Department — or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s website, www.samhsa.gov .