By 1st Lt. Joe Trovato
Wisconsin National Guard
MILWAUKEE, Wis. - A team of Wisconsin National Guardsmen joined law enforcement officers from throughout the state to take nearly 46,000 pounds of prescription drugs off the streets of Wisconsin April 30 to an incinerator where they will be safely disposed.
The 22.8-ton concoction of expired or unused medications collected from the medicine cabinets of Wisconsinites will never end up in the wrong hands after a nationwide drug take-back initiative.
The 44 pallets loaded onto two semi-trucks headed for an incinerator in Indianapolis after a six-month statewide collection period culminated in an April 27 take-back day at local drug stores, police departments and other locations around the state. The drugs people turned in were consolidated at Wisconsin State Patrol stations around the state and shipped to the Milwaukee Drug Enforcement Agency, where they were packaged and shipped.
As a result, 45,581 pounds of Tylenol, Robitussin, vicodin, and countless other drugs will not taint Wisconsin water supplies or end up in the hands of prescription and over-the-counter drug abusers.
"People don't realize how detrimental it can be," said Wisconsin Air National Guard Master Sgt. Jim Olive, a member of the Wisconsin National Guard counterdrug program.
Prescription drug abuse is on the rise nationwide, and some teens take part in "pharm parties," for which they raid medicine cabinets and dump a random assortment of pills into a bowl and consume them together.
Were it not for collection programs, the expired prescriptions and countless over-the-counter drugs sitting in medicine cabinets around the state would be prime targets for abusers. The collection program also keeps drugs from getting dumped down drains or toilets or sent to landfills where they can contaminate water supplies.
"The importance is somewhat obvious, because of the increase in pharmaceutical use over the last several years," said James Bohn, the assistant special agent in charge at the Milwaukee DEA facility.
"Probably the most common way to get pharmaceutical drugs to abuse is from someone's medicine cabinet," he said. "It comes from relatives, or it comes from friends or a neighbor. So the fact that we can get all of these out of the medicine cabinet and get them out of harm's way hopefully helps the problem down the road."
Bohn said the program could never be as successful as it is without the support of the multiple state agencies that participate in the take-back initiative, including the National Guard.
"From its infancy, the National Guard has always been involved in the DEA's national take back program," Olive said. "We've had different levels of involvement, and it varies from state to state."
The National Guard's counterdrug program played a big role in this year's take-back initiative, including providing funding and two truck drivers from the Oshkosh, Wis.-based 1157th Transportation Company. Staff Sgt. Ben Wagner and Sgt. Robert Tunstall trucked the two trucks to Indianapolis, while Olive and Sgt. 1st Class Paul Wagner, who works with the Guard's drug control program, helped oversee the process and pack the trucks for travel.
Some 177 law enforcement agencies were involved in the collection program with approximately 190 collection sites statewide. Most law enforcement agencies have drop boxes for unwanted drugs where people can deposit them at any time. Take-back initiatives run every six months, and more than 2 million pounds of drugs have been taken out of circulation nationwide since the program's inception, according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics.