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Officials collect drugs in "Burn Up Bins" that will be incinerated. Photo by Chloe Lessard.

584 pounds of prescription drugs collected, destroyed in Alameda County

on September 29, 2015

National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day netted 584 pounds of prescription and over-the-counter drugs collected by the Alameda County’s District Attorney Office on Saturday. The drugs were loaded up in trucks at the Drug Enforcement Agency’s office in Oakland. Their destination: the incinerator.

Volunteers from the District Attorney’s Office collected the drugs, which were left anonymously at drop-off points earlier that day. The event is part of a nationwide effort to reduce access to dangerous pharmaceuticals.

“We’re experiencing it in all counties and across nation, an epidemic of addiction to prescription drugs,” said Teresa Drenick, deputy district attorney for Alameda County. “We’re also seeing a spike in heroin addiction as a result of people first abusing prescription drugs.”

When left unsecured, unused and discarded prescription drugs can be retrieved for sale or abuse, Drenick said. For example, teenagers have easy access to forgotten drugs in relatives’ medicine cabinets.

“It’s huge,” said J.P. Williams, an inspector in the investigations unit at the DA’s office, referring to prescription drug abuse. “It has eclipsed the street drugs.” Non-medical use of prescription drugs ranks second only to marijuana as the most common form of drug abuse in America, according to a DEA flyer distributed at the take-back site.

Williams, along with fellow Inspectors Eddy Bermudez and Tai Nguyen, volunteered to staff the drop-off point in the parking lot of the Alameda County Family Justice Center in Oakland on Saturday. Halfway through the day, the site’s six cardboard “burn up bins” were filling up. A constant stream of people came and went, some with bags full of pills, and others with just an individual pill bottle.

“You don’t want to do it the old way. The old way was just to flush these drugs down the toilet,” said Nguyen. When the pharmaceuticals enter the wastewater system, they can become chemical pollutants, he said.

“When these drugs aren’t disposed of properly, they fill our landfills and harm our waterways,” said Drenick. “In the landfills, the drugs can leach into the water table and end up harming the marine life.”

“We’re just glad to get them off the streets,” said Nguyen.

For people with unwanted medicines who missed Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, a number of places still accept unwanted drugs for safe disposal, including the Alta Bates Peralta Outpatient Pharmacy, at 3300 Webster Street, Oakland, and the Alameda County Household Hazardous Waste drop off site, at 2100 East 7th Street, Oakland. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, at 15001 Foothill Blvd, San Leandro, is the only site that accepts controlled substances, like opioid painkillers.

For more information on safe disposal sites for unwanted medication, visit


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