July 11, 2013 10:29:50 AM
JACKSON -- Mississippi safety officials are trying to reduce prescription drug abuse by installing nine secure boxes at driver's license offices around the state, where the public can drop off unneeded prescription drugs, no questions asked.
Bureau of Narcotics director Marshall Fisher said Wednesday that no DNA or other evidence will be taken, and the drugs will be destroyed.
"We're not looking to make criminal cases out of this," Fisher said. "We're looking to help save lives."
Providing the boxes is a way to help people clear their homes of unneeded items, such as powerful painkillers, Fisher said.
Each of the sturdy metal drop-off boxes costs about $1,000 and is the size of a dormitory refrigerator. The boxes are in Batesville, Biloxi, Brookhaven, Greenwood, Hattiesburg, Jackson, Meridian, New Albany and Starkville.
The Department of Public Safety said 90 percent of Mississippi's drug overdose deaths in 2012 were from misused prescriptions.
"Prescription drug abuse crosses all segments of our society," Commissioner of Public Safety Albert Santa Cruz said during a news conference to announce the drop boxes.
The state reported 206 drug overdose deaths in 2011 and 234 in 2012. The highest numbers in both years were in coastal Harrison County, which reported 74 in 2011 and 53 in 2012. The state's most populous county, Hinds, reported 11 drug overdose deaths in 2011 and seven in 2012. Fast-growing DeSoto County, just south of Memphis, Tenn., reported no drug overdose deaths in 2011 and 12 in 2012.
More than half of the 82 counties reported no drug overdose deaths either year.
Fisher said the higher numbers in Harrison County don't necessarily mean it has a disproportionately large drug problem. He said Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove is meticulous in reporting information about causes of death, while the reporting in other counties might not be as detailed.
DPS said the five most abused prescription drugs in Mississippi in 2012 were hydrocodone, which is a narcotic pain reliever; alprazolam, which goes by the brand name Xanax and is used to treat anxiety disorder; tramadol, which is a pain reliever; oxycodone, which is used to treat severe pain; and zolpidem tartrate, which goes by the brand name Ambien and is used to treat insomnia.