Sep. 15—Editor's note: This article is the second in a three-part series shining a light on substance abuse in Aiken County and the Aiken Center's efforts to curb the crisis.
The Aiken Center helps people struggling with substance misuse by treating them and helping them recover. According to the Center, even more important is making sure drugs don't get into the wrong hands in the first place.
Prescription medications and laced drugs present the opportunity for accidental overdoses. From drug testing kits to drug disposal boxes, the Aiken Center is doing everything it can to prevent fatalities and promote drug safety in Aiken County.
"If you've hoarded some old medications and then somebody forgets, they might accidentally take too many," said Margaret Key, executive director of the Aiken Center. "The consequences can be fatal."
The Aiken Center has a total of three prescription drug drop-boxes in Aiken County which help curb drug misuse.
The North Augusta Department of Public Safety and the Aiken County Sheriff's Office partnered with the Aiken Center and installed a box at each of their headquarters.
On Monday, the Aiken Center and the Burnettown Police Department unveiled the third drop box at Burnettown Town Hall on Augusta Road, expanding safe medication disposal options for Burnettown residents.
The prescription drug drop-box is open to all community members and allows people to anonymously dispose of unused, unwanted and/or expired prescription drugs safely.
"I pray [the box] will take the drugs off the streets," Mayor Jonathan Dicks said. "If they can come over here and dispose of them in the proper way, it cuts the potential out of them being misused."
The drop-boxes are DOT-approved and labeled, which allows the agency to keep data tracking the amount of drugs discarded by county and box.
"The Burnettown Police Department is pleased to partner with the Aiken Center to provide a drop-off location for old and unwanted medications," said Chief of Police Jeff Key. "This will allow the citizens in our area to avoid traveling to Aiken or North Augusta to properly dispose of them."
During this past year, Aiken Center's prescription drug drop-box partnerships with the North Augusta Department of Public Safety and the Aiken County Sheriff's Office resulted in the collection of over 700 pounds of medications.
"When people have surgeries, they receive different kinds of pain medications — medications that could get into the wrong hands," Key said. "They can go and safely dispose of them in these drop-boxes now. It's making sure that leftover, unused, expired medications aren't put into the water system or misused."
In addition to the drop-boxes, the Aiken Center also offers another drug disposal solution called Deterra, free of charge.
Deterra is a small pouch that breaks down the dangerous chemical components in prescription drugs, Key said.
"You drop your pills or pour the liquid medication in, put some warm water in, zip tie it shut, shake it and just drop it in the regular crash," she said. "It's a good, safe way to get rid of old medications, and people can buy them or get them for free from us."
Key said the Deterra pouches are funded by a grant the Aiken Center received and they have given away hundreds to older citizens, most likely to be on multiple medications.
The Aiken Center workers said they are noticing that overdoses involving fentanyl are skyrocketing. While the user may know they are ingesting the drug, they may not know it is laced with a deadly additive.
The Aiken Center has identified the need for testing resources and is now offering drug testing kits in hopes of preventing overdoses.
The free drug testing kit includes five fentanyl testing strips, everything needed to conduct the tests and recovery support information.
"There's instructions for whether you are an IV user or a pill user, and you put those little strips into your salt, dilute a little bit of your drug with the water that we also provide and you put the strips in," Key said. "It'll indicate whether or not there are traces of fentanyl in it."
Key said the test results are not as accurate as they would be in a biomedical lab, but the tests are still a good indicator for people to make more informed decisions.
The tests are funded by a $10,000 grant and two other grants from the state, Key said.
"It's part of an overall harm reduction initiative," she said. "It's back to this idea that someone doesn't want to die, and this can detect even minute amounts of fentanyl in whatever the product is. But, more importantly, it is going to have information about how to reach us."
Key compared taking street drugs to playing Russian roulette and said the testing kits could lower the risk.
"If you're ready to think about getting out of Russian roulette, then let's talk."
The Aiken Center is located at 1105 Gregg Highway. For more information, call the center at 803-649-1900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.