The municipality of Mt. Lebanon announced a new initiative to fight prescription drug abuse on Wednesday.
The program is called Stop Addiction for Everyone, or SAFE, and includes a poster campaign, a PSA, and the installation of a new prescription drug drop box at the Public Safety Center on Washington Road.
For this project, Mt. Lebanon officials partnered with the Medical Rescue Team South Authority (MRTSA), Pennsylvania American Water, and St. Clair Hospital, as well as the Mt. Lebanon School District, Police Department, and City Council of PTAs.
Police Chief Coleman McDonough said eight Mt. Lebanon residents have died from opiate overdoses in the last 18 months.
Todd Pritchard, director of MRTSA, said his EMTs have taken 19 people to the emergency room due to prescription drug abuses or misuses since Jan. 1.
“Since the year 2008, every year we have actually surpassed the number of deaths due to automobile accidents with deaths from prescription drugs,” said Lilly Brindle, outreach specialist with Gateway Rehab Centers. “We are truly reaching epidemic proportions when it comes to prescription drugs.”
Brindle stressed that prescription drug abusers often don’t look like stereotypical drug addicts.
“They are not the picture that you might have in your mind’s eye of people … on the street corner, with their hoodie up taking drugs,” she said. “They are professionals. It is truly an equal opportunity epidemic.”
Kathe Niznik, director of psychiatry and mental health services at St. Clair Hospital, said the cost of treating prescription drug addiction continues to rise.
“A recent study puts the potential overall cost of prescription drug abuse at more than $70 million a year,” she said. “These expenses come from treatment in the form of emergency room visits, rehabilitation and associated health problems.”
Another cost comes from law enforcement’s interaction with those who buy and sell prescription drugs on the black market.
“Though violent crime is relatively rare here, thefts and burglaries are two of the most common crimes in Mt. Lebanon,” McDonough said. “After their arrests, our thieves and our burglars often admit that they’re motivated by the need for disposable items to turn first into cash, and then into drugs.”
The SAFE drug task force is encouraging residents to drop off unwanted or expired prescription drugs to keep them out of the hands of those who might abuse them.
Addiction and abuse aren’t the only concerns related to prescription drugs. Pritchard said sometimes children and animals will accidentally ingest these drugs.
“We strongly encourage individuals to dispose of those unnecessary and expired medications in their home to prevent any accidental overdoses,” Pritchard said. “Particularly in small children that might be visiting grandparents.”