By JEN CARDINES
The idea was a simple one: set up a drop box for unused prescriptions to keep them out of the water supply. In October 2012, the drop box was unveiled at the Southington Police Department headquarters with hopeful applause from town boards, police, and local civic groups.
It took a village. The Southington Town-Wide Effort to Promote Success (STEPS) spearheaded the campaign. Wheeler Clinic of Plainville financed the cost of the box. Augustine Builders in Southington installed the box as a gift to the community, and Covanta Energy agreed to dispose of the discarded medication at no cost to the town.
Four years later, the drop box has become one of the biggest collaborative projects in STEPS history.
The Southington Police Department (SPD) is still home to the large green drop-off container for expired and unused medicine, and it continues to be available to the public 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
Instead of flushing medications which end up in the water system, anyone can dispose of unused prescriptions safely through the box, keeping them out of reach for children and minors.
“From the environmental perspective, it is helping to keep our water system clean,” STEPS youth prevention coordinator Kelly Leppard said. “From the prevention side, it is reducing access to prescription medications and raising awareness of the misuse and dangers of taking medications that aren’t prescribed to you.”
Leppard said that in the years prior to the dropbox, STEPS partnered with the Southington Water Department for the Medication Take Back Project, where residents could drop off their medications. “Although it was a great project, the actual event itself was a huge undertaking and was only once a year,” she said. “John Dobbins, who is now a retired pharmacist, took the lead with STEPS, Wheeler Clinic, and the Southington Police Department to create a way for residents to dispose of medications on an ongoing basis.”
Today, the SPD is in charge of emptying the box, logging the items, and getting the contents to Covanta in Bristol. Covanta is an environmentally friendly waste management facility that turns waste into energy. They safely dispose the medications Southington brings them.
Town Manager Garry Brumback said that Southington was one of the first towns in Connecticut to establish a drug drop-off box. “STEPS has been a wonderful partner in both getting the word out and reinforcing the message,” he said.
“In addition,” Leppard said, “we have been educating the community on the importance of keeping medications in a locked or secure location until they are used or disposed at the drop box.”
Recently, STEPS produced an online video initiative that includes new and updated information about the coalition. The video has members from the different sectors in town speaking on behalf of STEPS and what it stands for.
“Through a comprehensive coalition structure where all sectors of the community are represented, STEPS has done a great job in getting conversations and campaigns started that will have lasting positive impact on the youth and adults in this community,” said Southington Youth Services director Christina Simms.
The Southington Town-wide Effort to Promote Success (STEPS) coalition hasn’t missed a beat when it comes to preventing youth from risky behaviors and substance abuse.
Since its start-up, STEPS has worked within the community to help make Southington a safer place to live. The coalition includes people from every sector of the community, including substance prevention programs, media, the Southington Board of Education and school system, local government, healthcare professionals, several civic and volunteer groups, the United Way of Southington, religious and fraternal organizations, Police and Fire Departments, the YMCA, Youth Services, the Chamber of Commerce, parents, PTO groups and most importantly, Southington’s youth.
Simms said, “STEPS, as a prevention coalition takes a proactive approach to empower individuals to foster a climate where illegal drugs and tobacco are not used at all, prescription drugs and over the counter medications are only used for their intended purpose, and alcohol use is only acceptable for adults.”
The video can be obtained at www.southingtonsteps.org/about.