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Oaklanders surrender heaps of drugs to feds in Drug Take-Back Day

on October 2, 2014

The sidewalk at Telegraph and 27th Avenue was lined with signs reading, “Got Drugs?” and, “¿Tiene drogas?”

The bilingual placards marked the site of the nation’s ninth National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, where the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Alameda County District Attorney’s office worked with Oakland and three other Alameda County cities on Saturday to take possession of old, unused and unwanted drugs until the DEA could destroy them.

Nationally, drug take-backs have collected and destroyed about 4.1 million pounds of medication cumulatively since the first event in 2010, said Bruce Goldberg, the DEA assistant special agent in charge. The goal is to combat the health and environmental dangers from outdated and unwanted drugs that are misused or improperly discarded. “More people die from prescription overdoses than any overdose deaths,” Goldberg said.

Abandoned prescription medicines can be consumed by young people, and in the worst cases, serve as a gateway to hard drugs such as heroin, said Teresa Drenick, an assistant Alameda County D.A. The rate of heroin use by young people is “climbing at an alarming rate and abuse starts with prescription medicine,” said Drenick.

Paul Balzouman, inspector at the ACDA Office, helps Craig Chew, assistant chief of inspectors at the ACDA Office, place a bag of pharmaceutical drugs in the burn-up bin. Photo by Nicole A. West

Paul Balzouman, inspector at the ACDA Office, helps Harry Hu, assistant chief of inspectors at the ACDA Office, place a bag of pharmaceutical drugs in the burn-up bin.
Photo by Nicole A. West

Wearing black polo shirts and blue protective gloves, sworn officers of the District Attorney’s office staffed the parking lot of the Alameda County Family Justice Center. Members of the public handed off the drugs to the officers—no questions asked. The haul was deposited into cardboard incineration bins marked with large orange letters reading “Burn Up Bin.”

Residents showed up in force—cars started entering the take-back zone nearly an hour before the scheduled 10 a.m. event, and the yield of unwanted pharmaceuticals filled up an entire incineration bin before the morning dew was gone.

Craig Chew, assistant chief of inspectors for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, estimated that each bin contained about 30 pounds of drugs, plus their containers.

Before noon, the Oakland drug take-back had filled four full bins. By the end of the day, the DA’s office was able to secure more than 793 pounds in 40 incinerations bins, the largest round-up in Northern California.

What can Oaklanders who missed Saturday’s collection do now with their leftover prescriptions? After October 9, pharmacies and drug manufacturers will be able to apply to become year-round drug take-back centers under recent changes, Goldberg said.

Recently appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to sit on the California State Board of Pharmacy, Dr. Albert C.M. Wong, pharmacist and co-owner of Oakland Pharmacy Inc. and operator of New Oakland Pharmacy in Chinatown, will work with colleagues to develop regulations that specify how pharmacies can process take-backs and who will incur the associated costs.

Until the regulation change, pharmacy staffs can continue to “teach clients what to do with expired medications,” Wong said in a phone interview.

Oakland residents who have questions about their unwanted medications can consult Alameda County Household Hazardous Waste by visiting

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