Unused prescription medications left in cupboards and shelves in homes bring great risk to the community as a whole, according to Community Connections.

That is why the monthly collections of such drugs are so important, said Catiana Urrutia, substance abuse prevention coordinator for the organization. This Saturday marks the 10th year of the collection effort hosted by Community Connections in North Platte. The event will run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Platte River Mall.

“The collection is about getting unused and expired drugs out of the community,” Urrutia said. “Obviously, we don’t want people misusing them or having them stolen.”

Urrutia said the monthly collections help protect the environment as well.

“It’s been a common thought that ‘I don’t need these drugs anymore so I’m just going to throw them away or flush them down the toilet,’” Urrutia said. “If you flush them, that goes through the water system and gets into the water supply, and it can end up in our drinking water. We don’t want drugs in our drinking water.”

If they’re thrown away, she said, there’s always the possibility of young people digging through the trash and getting them.

The Drug Enforcement Administration hosts two national take-back events every year, one in the spring and one in the fall. But 10 years ago Commmunity Connections wanted to do more.

“We wanted to offer this regularly for people,” Urrutia said. “For rural Nebraska, it’s pretty rare that there’s a consistent and reliable resource like this to the community.”

Urrutia said there is a collaborative effort by Community Connections, law enforcement and the medical community.

“There’s an officer at every collection and we have a wonderful partnership with all our law enforcement,” Urrutia said. “They rotate every three months, so one month someone from the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office is there, one month someone from the North Platte Police Department and one month someone from the Nebraska State Patrol.”

She said the officer takes the drugs to the State Patrol office for disposal.

“They will send them to the incinerator to be safely burned and disposed of,” Urrutia said. “Legally, we couldn’t do it without law enforcement there and we can’t do it without a medical representative there.”

The process for those bringing unused prescriptions is simple, Urrutia said.

“The way it works is when someone brings in their drugs, they drop it off at one end of the table with our law enforcement and medical records representative,” Urrutia said. “They sort through controlled and uncontrolled substances.”

Only law enforcement and medical professionals are qualified to handle the drugs.

“The opioids and drugs like that are taken care of at one end and the rest they will pass down where we put them in the bags and empty the liquids and that kind of stuff,” Urrutia said. “We have a small survey we ask people to fill out, but it’s all anonymous. So people could bring in hard, bad drugs and we would take them.”

Some drugs are not accepted.

“The only thing we don’t accept are needles, such as diabetic needles or sharps (a medical term for devices with sharp points or edges), that kind of thing,” Urrutia said. “It’s not safe for us to accept needles.”

Urrutia said it is important for people to regularly check their cupboards, especially if they take a lot of medications.

“Some people have knee surgery or hip surgery, back surgery and they are prescribed opioids,” Urrutia said. “They then take them for a day or two and keep the extras in case something else ever happens. Maybe in case my spouse or my kid or a friend I can share with them. This isn’t safe.”

She said that’s how addiction starts.

“It seems like a waste — you paid for the pills and they’re expensive,” Urrutia said. “But if you’re not taking all your pills, get rid of them.”

Unused pills or liquids for pets are also accepted, Urrutia said.

Volunteers who wish to help can call Urrutia at 308-696-3358.

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