Ramsey County partnership expands reach of Drug Take Back Day

Ramsey County partnership expands reach of Drug Take Back Day

Ramsey County partnership expands reach of Drug Take Back Day

It’s national Drug Take Back Day: A biannual opportunity to drop off unneeded medications — and this year at the Cub Foods in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood, syringes too — keeping them from contaminating the environment and out of the hands of those they don’t belong to.

The Ramsey County OPUS Coalition has been bagging up pill bottles and boxes twice a year for a few years outside the grocery store as part of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s nationwide event, but for the first time ever on Saturday, a new partnership was put to the test.

The OPUS Coalition brought along Ramsey County Public Health to provide a place to properly dispose of used syringes as well.

Public Health’s mobile ‘555 Clinic’ was onsite to take unwanted sharps; not just needles involved in illicit drug use, but also used EpiPens and insulin syringes — all items that the Drug Take Back Day program can’t actually take.

“We thought this is the perfect opportunity to help partner with them, because of the services we provide kind of marries what they do,” said Jessie Saavedra, a health educator for Ramsey County Public Health.

Just two hours into the event on Saturday, Saavedra estimated they’d collected about 2,000 syringes.

Back at the Drug Take Back table, OPUS Coalition community engagement manager Jonessa Wisniewski was certain they’d have 300 pounds of medications by the end of the day, surpassing the 200-pound totals from each of the previous April and October 2022 events.

“One bottle goes a long way,” Wisniewski said. “We always say, ‘If we can help one person not get their hands on medication that isn’t theirs, you’re making a massive, significant impact on somebody’s life.'”

Jeremy Sutliff is a peer recovery support specialist for the OPUS Coalition. He is also six years into his own recovery journey, and for him, the message behind Drug Take Back Day is personal.

“My mom knows this, but I would go into the medicine cabinet and take some of her pills when I couldn’t get anything,” he shared.

“It was the temptation for it, yeah.”

Long before he turned to his mother’s medicine cabinet, Sutliff was introduced to drugs and alcohol as a child. He says his addiction later “took off” after he was prescribed the narcotic Percocet following a bad car accident “right after high school.”

It’s a tale he now knows isn’t unique. 75% of people who misuse prescription medications first got them from a friend, family member or their doctor, according to the OPUS Coalition.

That’s why Sutliff, now a husband and newly a father, was standing in the cold on Saturday outside the grocery store, helping to make sure medicine cabinets do not become enablers for others who are struggling.

“It’s just locking them up, being aware of actually how many you have maybe in your bottle, to count them regularly, to keep track,” he advised.

Wisniewski stressed that unused medications can be dropped off any time of year, not just on Drug Take Back Days. To find a permanent collection site nearby, head to this website and type in your zip code.

The OPUS Coalition has its own list of sites specific to Ramsey County as well.