Law Enforcement Teams with Realtors on Pill Problem

MetroWest Daily News
By Danielle Ameden/Daily News Staff
November 10, 2015 5:55 PM

FRAMINGHAM – To get high, people may abuse prescription pills a doctor legally prescribed to them or that they got from a friend or took from a family member.

But sometimes, law enforcement authorities say, addicts hit up a less likely place to look for drugs: Real estate open houses.

Aiming to reduce prescription drug theft and fight the opioid epidemic, Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, District Attorney Marian Ryan and state Rep. Tom Sannicandro, D-Ashland, joined the national Safe Homes Coalition and police chiefs from across the county Tuesday in launching a new partnership with local Realtors.

Members of the Greater Boston Association of Realtors will start distributing reusable plastic bags for homeowners to use to safeguard their pills before they open up their homes.

“When I was a kid, and I think when many of these chiefs were children, we used to be worried about people raiding our liquor cabinets,” Koutoujian said during a press conference in the Framingham Police Department’s roll call room, flanked by fellow law enforcement officials. “Today we need to be worried about people raiding our medicine cabinets.”

Greg Stein, executive director of the Safe Homes Coalition, said this new expansion of the “Keep Kids Safe” program is largely about public education.

“A simple fact is that before the end of this press conference, someone, somewhere in the United States, is going to die of a prescription drug overdose, and that’s why we’re here today,” Stein said.

“We all know how important and critical this is to our community and to our commonwealth and the nation at this point,” Sannicandro said.

The white, re-sealable bags are labeled with instructions to pack the bag with any prescription medications and store in a secure, locked location. The other option is to drop off unwanted, unused or expired medications at a drop box in a police station lobby.

Stein said the bags aren’t a silver bullet for the problem, but one more “tool in the toolbox.”

Koutoujian said he chaired the Oxycontin Commission in 2005 when he first learned addicts were going to open houses “for the sole purpose of hitting the bathroom.”

That year, the state had 525 deaths from opioids, Koutoujian said.

“Last year, in 2014, there were 1,265 deaths, a 142-percent increase in just 10 years, despite the fact we (knew) basically what we know today 10 years ago,” he said, “despite the fact some of the recommendations we’re making today were made 10 years ago. We have been losing this battle year after year.”

Koutoujian said four out of five heroin addicts got hooked first on prescription pills, and it’s important to try to intervene at the level of prescription drug misuse and abuse.

The opioid problem touches everyone, Ryan said, adding that the collaboration approach now between law enforcement agencies and other partners is impressive.

Top brass from the Framingham, Ashland, Newton, Lincoln, Lowell, Stoneham and North Reading police departments took part in the press event.

Framingham Town Manager Bob Halpin, state Rep. Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston, the United Way of Tri-County and other community partners also attended.

“I’ve been a prosecutor for a very long time and 5 years, 10 years ago, you would not have seen this group of folks standing together and tackling the problem,” Ryan said. “In Middlesex County, we are extremely fortunate.”

For more information on the program, visit makeitasafehome.org/.

Danielle Ameden can be reached at 508-626-4416 or dameden@wickedlocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @damedenMW.

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