People who want to safely dispose of their unused or expired prescription medication will soon have a round-the-clock option in parts of western Washtenaw County.
The communities of Dexter, Chelsea and Manchester will implement a free drug collection program known as the "Big Red Barrel Project" in 2013.
The program is modeled from a similar one in Livingston County that uses permanent collection units installed in local police stations.
"Heroin addiction typically starts with prescription medication abuse, specifically heavy pain killers. In Washtenaw County, community leaders have recognized a need for a place where people could safely dispose of their unwanted medication," Reiley Curran, SRSLY Chelsea coalition director said. "With permanent prescription drug collection units available for community use, it would decrease the likelihood of prescription drug abuse."
The 400-pound barrels will be made by students in the welding class of the Washtenaw Community College Consortium and will be designed similar to a mailbox that can only be accessed by law enforcement officials, who will drive the collected medications to an EPA-approved incinerator in Jackson for safe disposal.
Dexter Village Trustee Paul Cousins said he is excited to see the Red Barrel Project come to Washtenaw County.
"A lot of people flush their unused pills down the toilet not knowing that it can have an adverse affect on the environment," he said. "This program is very important to us because right not there is no place to get rid of unused or expired prescription drugs in the community."
Cousins said legally unused Schedule 1 drugs like oxycodone or Vicodin cannot be dropped off at pharmacies for disposal.
In Chelsea, according to Curran, 14 percent of the middle school students have taken a prescription painkiller without a doctor’ prescription, and 1 in 20 high school students has abused a prescription drug in the past month.
The square barrels will be located inside the Chelsea Police Department, and the Washtenaw County Sheriff's substations in Manchester, Dexter Village and Scio Township on Jackson Road.
Curran said the program is scheduled to roll out in the communities sometime in the first quarter of 2013.
"Our target is the middle of January," she said. "It takes approximately two weeks per barrel to build. In the meantime we will be working with local law enforcement to craft policies for the proper collection and disposal of the drugs."
Funding for the program is through a grant from the Chelsea Area Wellness Foundation.