Pill nation: Target 2 goes inside as state collects tons of unused drugs

WISCONSIN (WBAY) - Millions of prescriptions are written in Wisconsin each year. During the same time, police collect tens of thousands of pounds of unwanted pills from people in the state.

Target 2 Investigates was granted exclusive access to the Wisconsin Department of Justice's Drug Take Back collection. One-by-one, trucks pulled up and unloaded tons of unwanted pills from medicine cabinets in all corners of the state.

Police from Northeast Wisconsin's 22 counties collected 12,305 pounds of medications. That's equivalent to six tons of drugs.

The DOJ allowed our cameras inside, but asked we identify no officers and keep the location unknown.

Here's what we found:


"This is a great day for Wisconsin when we take this many, these types of numbers, out of houses, unwanted substances," says Bob Bell. He's the Drug Enforcement Administration's assistant special agent in charge.

Agents weigh and seal up each box, making sure not a single pill is left to fall into the wrong hands.

"We don't want their caregivers, their family members, some of which are struggling with addiction, we don't want to see them get their hands on the drugs," says Danielle Long. Long is the coordinator of the DOJ's Drug Take Back.

Officers wrap up the boxes. Each pallet contains roughly 1,000 pounds of pills.

"This is really only a fraction of what will be collected today, and this is almost two semis full," Long says.

Some of this medication was collected Oct. 28 during Drug Take Backs at 134 locations in Wisconsin. The rest had accumulated since April in permanent drop boxes inside local police departments.

By day's end, 60,000 pounds of pills were ready to be shipped away.

"If we can get opiates, primarily, but all of the prescription drugs out of the supply chain, this is a good thing," says Sheriff Eric Severson, Waukesha County.

It's only been about six months since the last drug collection in Wisconsin. Drug agents we talked to say the amount collected during this take back says a lot about the sheer number of prescriptions being written in Wisconsin.

"It's telling, in terms of what is out there, in terms of over-manufacturing, over-distributing, over-prescribing and over-dispensing," Bob Bell says. "There are just too many pills and a lot of ways we've become a pill nation, unfortunately."


Wisconsin's new Prescription Drug Monitoring Database reveals an astounding 7.5 million prescriptions for controlled substances written in Wisconsin through Oct. 1, 2017.

Almost half of those prescriptions are for opioids.

Preliminary numbers show nearly 800,000 prescriptions were written in September alone.

"We've been encouraging parents and caregivers and community members for quite sometime to have those proactive conversations with their caregivers, dentists, physicians about what is really necessary to control pain," Bell says.

Brown County registers the most prescriptions with nearly 356,000 to date.

In Outagamie County, that number nears a quarter of a million.

"You go to the emergency room with your son, he breaks his arm in football and he's offered a painkiller, it's highly, highly addictive. And a lot of people don't realize that," says Danielle Long. "So we really want to make sure that message is out there and we're cautious about what we're taking."

Target 2 found more than 1,300 statewide stolen medication alerts from law enforcement.

"This is a platform for us to inform the residents of Wisconsin and around the country what this problem is all about and how it can impact your family," Bell says.

The pills collected during the Take Back event are transported to Covanta in Indiana where they are incinerated in a combustion chamber using EPA-regulated air control equipment that converts the pills into energy.

The agents will do this again in six months.

"I don't think it's because we, in Wisconsin, have more drugs. I think it's because we're collectively doing a great job getting the word out there and people are responding," Long says.

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