By Donald Wittkowski
It resembles a standard post office box, but no one is dropping off their mail or packages in this metal container in the lobby of City Hall.
Instead, the “drop box” is giving Sea Isle City residents a safe way to dispose of their unwanted or expired prescription medications – and helping the town fight New Jersey’s opioid epidemic at the same time.
“This is certainly the preferred method of disposal for unwanted or unused medications,” Police Chief Tom McQuillen said.
Since it was put into use on Oct. 29, the medicine drop box has resulted in pounds of old prescription drugs being turned in. In the first week alone, more than 27 pounds of medicine were collected, an amount that astonished police.
“It was so overwhelming, we said, ‘Wow,’ we have to take a measurement of this,” McQuillen said of all of the medicines that were dropped off in the first week.
McQuillen didn’t know the total weight of all the medicines collected since Oct. 29, but he characterized the drop box as an unqualified success so far.
In October, Sea Isle became the latest municipality to join the New Jersey Attorney General’s “Project Medicine Drop” initiative, a program that targets the state’s opioid crisis.
Overall, there are now 260 medicine drop boxes located across the state, including 12 in Cape May County, according to the New Jersey’s Division of Consumer Affairs.
During a press conference in October to unveil the drop box, Sea Isle Mayor Leonard Desiderio said it would allow Sea Isle residents to take “an active role” in the fight against the state’s opioid and heroin addiction crisis, which often is fueled by the abuse of prescription painkillers.
“We want this box to be full,” Desiderio said at the time. “We do not want this medication to get in the wrong hands. This is the best way.”
While giving an update Friday on the success of the drop box in the first six weeks, McQuillen said it has helped to keep prescription drugs away from people “who may try to acquire them for illegal purposes.”
“It prevents unused medications from falling into the hands of those who might abuse them and keeps them from being flushed into the water supply,” he said.
The discarded medications are taken to a disposal site and incinerated. In 2017, the state was able to dispose of about 84,000 pounds of unwanted medications, including 2,131 pounds in Cape May County, through the Project Medicine Drop program, according to Linda Romano McGloin, a representative of the New Jersey Department of Consumer Affairs.
Located in the lobby on the first floor of City Hall, Sea Isle’s medicine drop box is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The program is completely anonymous. No questions are asked. No forms must be filled out. People simply slip their medications through a mail box-like slot and leave.
Cape Assist, a drug treatment and prevention organization in Cape May County, funded Sea Isle’s medicine drop box. McQuillen said Sea Isle has partnered with Cape Assist and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs for the program.
The AARP chapter in Sea Isle says the drop box gives senior citizens a safe and convenient way to throw out old medications. McQuillen, though, noted that adults of all age groups seem to be using the drop box.
“It really runs the gamut,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a majority of senior citizens or a majority of middle-aged people. It runs across the spectrum.”