Amid heroin crisis, officials urge residents to turn in unneeded prescription drugs

As Massachusetts grapples with a surge in heroin overdoses, top elected officials Monday urged residents to scour medicine cabinets for unneeded prescription drugs that can act as a gateway to addiction.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh and 10 members of the state’s congressional delegation called on residents to turn in unwanted pills as part of a national effort to curb prescription drug abuse.

“I’ve watched young people get into a medicine cabinet and start by popping one pill,” Walsh said at a press conference at City Hall, where he was joined by the two US senators and eight of the nine US representatives from Massachusetts. “That one pill takes them and their family on a ride that nobody wants to be on.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

“We have young people who take a prescription drug and in a very short time are putting a needle in their arm,” Walsh said.

The elected officials were promoting annual National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, an initiative scheduled for April 26. On that day, people can dispose of expired, unused, or unwanted prescriptions prone to abuse and theft. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. that Saturday, people can drop off unwanted prescription drugs with no questions asked at police departments and other locations.

In Boston, there are currently drug collection kiosks at 11 police stations where prescription drugs can be dropped off any time. US Senator Elizabeth Warren acknowledged at the press conference that the prescription take-back was not a panacea, but said it was something tangible that could be done to limit access to habit-forming drugs.

“The problem of addiction is a problem that has many starting points, and one starting point is the family medicine cabinet,” Warren said. “We can fix that problem ourselves. We can fix it by getting drugs off the shelves and getting them into the police department.”

In March, Governor Deval Patrick declared a public health emergency in Massachusetts to combat the abuse of opiates. Patrick directed all the state’s police, firefighters, and other emergency personnel be equipped with a drug that can quickly reverse heroin overdoses.

The governor also prohibited the sale of Zohydro, a narcotic painkiller approved last year in a controversial decision by the US Food and Drug Administration. As part of the emergency declaration, Patrick also pledged to spend $20 million to increase treatment and recovery services for the public, state prisons, and county jails.