Weather Forecast


Drug drop draws 200 pounds of dope a year: Prescription drop off box available at Bemidji LEC

The prescription drug drop-off box at the Law Enforcement Center is a safe way to dispose of old and unused medications. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

Crystal Dey

BEMIDJI — Illegal drugs have a silent partner that has crept into people’s homes, sometimes undetected.

Unused prescription pain killers and expired medications set harmlessly on medicine cabinet shelves can pose a threat once noticed. To prevent polluting the groundwater by flushing the pills or running the risk of an addict breaking into your home for the drugs, dispose of them properly.

The Paul Bunyan Drug Task Force in partnership with the Bemidji Police Department and Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office installed a secure drop box for unwanted prescriptions and narcotics in the Bemidji Law Enforcement Center’s lobby in 2011. Since that time, approximately 600 pounds of drugs have been collected and destroyed.

“It’s incredible the amount of participation we’ve received by the public,” said Commander Gary Pederson with the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office.“We get a lot of medications from hospice and from people who don’t use their entire prescriptions.”

Law enforcement learned that a lot of pills are coming in from medicine cabinets and many were being flushed down the toilet prior to the drop box.

“We looked for ways to minimize diversion of pills,” Pederson said. In law enforcement, diversion is the illegal use of legal drugs. He said the decision to install a drop box is two-fold: one reason is to prevent illegal use of the drugs and the other is environmental, to keep the drugs out of the groundwater.

“It’s also a health issue. We want to prevent drug use and abuse in young people,” Pederson said.

The need to provide a place to dispose of drugs came after the rise in synthetic opioid abuse. Pederson said law enforcement doesn’t see Oxycontin these days because it was reformulated.

“Oxycodone, hydrocodone, percocet and dilaudid are still being abused,” Pederson said.

Oxycodone, a derivative of opium, is the active ingredient in Oxycontin. Originally released on the market in 1995, Oxycontin was reformulated in 2010.

The new formula deters people from crushing and snorting the substance to get high. The FDA reports the new formula poses a higher likelihood of overdose and cannot be diluted in water to be injected because it forms a gummy paste that cannot be drawn up into a syringe.

Pederson said the drop box was designed to allow people to remain anonymous to encourage them to use the free service.

People wanting to rid themselves of expired or unwanted Rx’s can dispose of them in the prescription drug drop off box in the lobby at 613 Minnesota Ave. NW in Bemidji. Pills must be removed from the original containers and placed in zip lock bags which are available at the law enforcement center. Liquid medications and SHARPS are not preferred as the secured receptacle is not designed to handle that type of drop and handling can be problematic.

The box is designed with an opening accessible to the public for inserting medications. From there, pills travel down a long narrow tube into a secured biohazard receptacle that is sealed and stored in evidence until it is picked up by Healthcare Environmental Services.

When drugs arrive at Healthcare Environmental Services in Fargo, they are incinerated. Pederson said the facility in North Dakota was selected because it is federally certified to incinerate the drugs and because it is where the Fargo DEA disposes of its drugs.

A 3M facility in St. Paul will be disposing of street drugs like meth, cocaine, crack, K2 and Spice as part of an arrangement with the Violent Crime Coordinating Council and the BCA, Pederson said.

To date, Pederson said there have been no instances of illegal drugs deposited in the drop box. Pederson is one of two people with authorization to handle the drug drop box in Bemidji. The law enforcement center lobby is monitored 24-hours a day.

“I’ve never had a problem with people tampering with the drug box ever,” Pederson said. “I don’t think it’s possible.”

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
(218) 333-9796