The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

April 29, 2014

Unused drugs

You have the right — and responsibility — to get rid of them


—  Our front page on Sunday featured a pair of stories that at first glance seemed to be just separate reports, placed side-by-side merely because that was the best way to put the page together.

One story was about Beckley police officers taking part in Drug Take-Back Day, and the thousands of prescription medications and pills that were shifted from home medicine cabinets to police custody and eventual destruction.

The other was an illuminating feature focusing on Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick III, in which he meticulously takes us through the process of how law enforcement officers make an arrest.

Sadly, these stories are deeply interconnected these days in southern West Virginia.

U.S. District Attorney Booth Goodwin told us in Hinton earlier this month that the first pills young people take to get high don’t typically come from a dealer on the street. They come from the family medicine cabinet.

Beckley Police Chief Lonnie Christian had this to say about Drug Take-Back Day: “It keeps them from just keeping it at their house where it may pose a danger or maybe encourage someone to try to come in and get some medication.

“It could keep teens or children from taking that medication.”

In West Virginia, that is particularly important. The number of drug overdose deaths —  a majority from prescription drug abuse — has increased by more than 600 percent since 1999.

West Virginia now has the highest drug overdose mortality rate in the United States.

Some national facts from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

- Drug overdoses now kill more Americans than motor vehicle crashes.

- Enough painkillers were prescribed to medicate each American adult every four hours for one month.

- Roughly one in 20 people in the United States report using prescription painkillers for non-medical reasons each year.

Which brings us back to Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick III, and the other prong of our connected stories.

Because there is another path that leads from that unlocked and available medicine cabinet in the bathroom. And it can lead to jail, or to prison.

As Judge Kirkpatrick noted, at the time an arrest is made, a police officer reads the suspect his or her Miranda rights, based on a Supreme Court ruling that all arrestees must be made aware of their right not to incriminate themselves and that they are entitled to representation by a lawyer.

We’ve heard it a million times, in every police or detective show on television: “You have the right to remain silent.”

Not all teens who experiment with drugs will hear those words spoken by a law officer, not will they necessarily go down the path of overdose or incarceration.

But those potential outcomes are part of the territory one enters when one begins to abuse drugs. The temptation will always be with young people to start experimenting by using those prescription drugs in the family medicine cabinet.

In keeping with the spirit of the Miranda warning, we’d like to offer another option when it comes to unused prescription drugs in your medicine cabinet.

You have the right to get rid of them.