By Leah Jones, Feature Editor
The patient’s heart raced. His fever alarmed the doctors. His family and friends sat in the sterile, white, hospital waiting room, reading old magazines to distract themselves from the overwhelming smell of bleach and their own anxiety. The heart monitor’s slow metronomic beat accelerated into a shrieking alarm that sent the doctors scrambling to the patient’s room where they found him in convulsions. They recognized the signs of Ritalin abuse; elevated blood pressure, restlessness, increased heart rate, anxiety, hostility, the strain on the patient’s heart, and now the convulsions and possible death.
Many people consider prescription pills safe since doctors prescribe them. However, prescription pills carry a high risk of death and dependency according to “Use as Directed,” a pamphlet published by Partners in Prevention in connection with the Missouri Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse. Officer Brian Clements, Crime Prevention and Community Involvement Officer in the Special Operations Division of the University of Missouri-St. Louis Police Department, teamed up with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to hold a Drug Take-Back Event on October 17 and 18. Students and faculty brought old prescription pills to the UMSL PD’s table on the second floor rotunda of the Millennium Student Center (MSC). The UMSL PD then safely destroyed the pills. They also handed out DeTerra bags, which are bags that contain a powder that when combined with water, will neutralize the drugs in the bag.
Prescription pills flushed down the toilet or thrown away contaminate groundwater, so when people no longer need the pills, they often just sit in their medicine cabinets. This access gives people the opportunity to abuse the pills according to Clements. “The goal is to try to get people who have old prescriptions to be able to have a way they can turn them in easily and a lot of it is focused on making sure that prescription pills aren’t being abused,” Clements said.
Prescription drug abuse awareness is particularly important for college campuses. In 2015, 15.3 percent of 18-25 year-olds reported taking prescription pills for non-medical uses, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which was conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Clements said, “It’s important for our campus because we have a lot of college-aged people who are at the campus and that is one of the larger demographics for the risk of prescription pill abuse. So if we can kind of help reduce that temptation by getting rid of the drugs, that’s probably what we should be focused on.”
Erica Marlinghaus, sophomore, nursing, and Delta Zeta member, said “As a nursing major, [and having seen] people who do get into drugs, or people who have gotten into drugs because of other people, I think that it’s a really valuable service, that often gets overlooked.”
Aside from the dangers of addiction, Marlinghaus also brought up the fact that prescription pills are dangerous after they expire. Marlinghaus said, “I can tell you that when doctors are prescribing prescription pills, they are prescribing them for obviously a certain reason, but what a lot of people don’t think about is [that this is] for [only for] a certain period of time. Like there is definitely the importance of finishing your antibiotics… [But[ after a certain period of time, the drug becomes dangerous and if you keep putting it in your body after that period of time, it’s bad for you… Something chemically in the drug makes it dangerous for anybody to take.”
Katrina Lynn, senior, psychology, who is also a Delta Zeta member, agreed. “It’s a really good idea for students on campus who need to get rid of their drugs and maybe if they feel like if they’re going to have an addiction and take it at a later time, it’s good to just be like ‘I can get rid of it’,” she said.
In addition to the health dangers posed by prescription drugs, another pamphlet by Partners in Prevention, “What’s Your Degree Worth,” outlines the consequences for students’ careers if they are charged with a criminal violation for possession of these drugs or alcohol convictions. Counselors, psychologists, social workers, teachers, chiropractors, nurses, pharmacists, physical therapists, physicians, speech and language pathologists, veterinarians, military personnel, government agents, police officers, accountants, lawyers, and professional engineers all face reprimands up to revoked or suspended licenses.
While the Take-Back event gave students a place to bring their old prescription pills, the students also did not have to be concerned that the UMSL PD profiled them to watch them in the future. “We actually don’t check the pills. It’s completely anonymous. We don’t have you sit there and fill out a form or check to make sure your event he person who owns the pills. Because we really just want to make sure that they’re getting off the street,” Clements said.
The DEA holds Drug-Take back events twice a year. However, there are drop-off boxes around the city where students can take their old prescription pills during the rest of the year. People can find these locations on the DEA’s website at https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/takeback/
To read more about the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, visit, https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/prescription-drugs-cold-medicines.