BENNINGTON — Got expired or unused prescription drugs sitting around?
The Bennington County Prescription Drug Task Force was formed seven years ago with the initial intent to provide access points for people to rid of excess or expired medication.
Since then, law enforcement, physicians, recovered opioid addicts, pharmacists and the Vermont Department of Health have joined the force and the state-wide movement to decrease the drug addiction epidemic.
It's most recent initiative involves educating veterinarians who prescribe opioids to animals for pain. Occasionally, the drugs given to animals are the same type humans are prescribed, making it easier to add to one's addiction, said Victoria Silsby, task force member and tobacco coordinator for The Collaborative substance prevention program.
"It was very anecdotal and just seems to always to come up," Silsby said. "We focus on practitioners that treat the Bennington county population and there's been some outreach in different communities to dentists. We held a meeting and invited vets and they shared info about what they see in their practice and ideas about what they felt."
Since October, the task force has been working with two vets in Bennington to put together a packet of information to send to veterinary practices across the state, along with a letter including topics such as drug diversion unit and Vermont laws, best practices of prescription requirements per Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) regulations, prescription safeguards for prescribers, drug classification schedules and safe storage and proper disposal.
"The vets are into getting the message out," Maryann Morris, The Collaborative executive director and task force member said. "The group is dedicated to educating and providing information."
Aside from educational outreach, Dr. Nissa Walke, Bennington preventative consultant at the Vermont Department of Health, offered several additional ways to decrease the use of opioids in the area:
• Enhance skills in population: parents and children
• Provide support to substance free activities.
• Living conditions: if there are barriers in the way of people accessing what they need, try to reduce them
• Changing consequences: Not arresting users, instead create incentives for people and look at the positive behaviors and recognize them.
• Environmental changes: increased street lighting, police presence, to deter substance abuse.
• Policy changes: For example, making a campus (school, business, or retail) smoke free so that the visual is out of youth.
Three years ago, Silsby got an information card in the hands of about 56,000 students in Bennington County to take home. The information was altered depending on the receiving age group.
"It was a huge endeavor, it was really well received," Silsby said. "It was timed with just going back to school.
For the spring, the task force is looking forward to hosting a conversation with prescribers and pharmacists to open a exchange for communication and ultimately control opiate use.
"I think that what's really going to happen is that the more people that are going to interact around this, and the more they get in the room together and talk about ways to do that, that's where the best ideas are going to come from; them generating it themselves. So, I'm anxious for that conversation," Morris said.
Normally there are just two days each year that residents can drop off expired medication, but the task force established four sites in the county to provide year-round service. The next national drop-off day will be held on April 30 in which pharmacies help collect as well.
"We're getting people to get in the mindset of not keeping medications around," Morris said.
She added that it's not just about the temptation aspect, but also the environmental so drugs aren't being flushed down the toilet or sink but being properly collected by law enforcement.
Other future efforts include communicating with the Northern Berkshire County Coalition (NBCC) in Massachusetts to ensure the message is the same across state lines. Silsby said Vermont residents may work or commute to New York and Massachusetts frequently and they need to know about safe and secure disposal of prescription drugs.
The task force remains a completely volunteer based organization that meets monthly.
Current drop off sites:
• Bennington County Sheriff's Department 212 Lincoln Street in Bennington from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Officers accept liquids but no sharp needles. Pick-up available upon a mutually agreed scheduled time via phone call. Mail-in are also available to Sheriff Chad D. Schmid at PO Box 4207, Bennington, VT 05201. Phone number: 802-442-4900.
• Bennington Police Department at 118 South St. in Bennington. This is a 24 hour, seven days a week drop-off site. Phone number: 802-442-1030.
• Manchester Police Station at 6041 Main St. in Manchester from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Phone number: 802-362-2022.
• Winhall Police Station at 113 Vermont Route 30 in Bondville. This is a 24 hour, seven days a week drop-off site. Phone number: 802-297-1013. Pick-ups available upon request.
• For more information on locations in Bennington County, call The Collaborative at (802) 824-4200 or The Vermont Department of Health Bennington at (802) 442-3929.
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.