The Heart of Nashua with Joan Stylianos: Take Back Boxes can take back lives

It’s unfair, but some of us probably view an opioid addiction as a moral failure. The scientific facts, however, show us otherwise. Being hooked on drugs like opioids is a complicated disease that affects both the body and the brain.

If we don’t keep talking about it, writing about it or trying to fix it, the epidemic will consume us.

Just hearing the city’s regional director of AMR, Christopher Stawasz, say that he fears the opioid scourge could possibly “wipe out a generation” is sobering enough. The growing numbers paint a grim picture, according to national publication, which states that “opioids could kill nearly 500,000 Americans in the next decade.”

For those personally touched by the opioid epidemic and the first responders trying to stop the bleeding in New Hampshire, it’s an extremely difficult and complex problem to eradicate.

I know that here the powers that be are trying with all their resources and skills to get a grip on the problem.

Fire, police and emergency medical experts often feel like they’re treading water. But I believe we are making headway.

For example, Southern New Hampshire Medical Center is encouraging the removal of unwanted, unused and expired prescriptions found in many homes across Nashua and the area. The downtown hospital has recently installed a permanent Take Back Box for prescription medication. The bright blue box is in the main lobby of the hospital’s 8 Prospect St. entrance for the public to dispose of their meds.

It’s simple, safe, secure, environmentally friendly and always available to use, say the hospital’s pharmacy director John Foley and assistant pharmacy director John Berard.

It’s like dropping letters into a mailbox, they say. It’s anonymous, quick, no questions asked. It’s been three weeks since the box was installed, and “Already, people have been coming in and using it to dispose of their prescription medication,” Berard said.

“Proper disposal of prescribed controlled substances that are no longer needed by a patient is important for the safety of all of us,” Foley said. The hospital’s list includes these:

Opioids for pain (Oxycodone, Vicodin, Tylenol with Codeine, Hydromorphone, Morphine, Fentanyl), amphetamine-type medications for attention deficit disorders (methylphenidate (Ritalin) and amphetamines such as Adderall, Concerta and Vyvanse) and various medicines for sleep and anxiety (zolpidem, alprazolam, lorazepam).

Jon Delena, assistant special agent in charge at the Drug Enforcement Administration for the New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont regions, has said that three out of four heroin addicts begin by using prescription opiods.

“More often than not, they start with what’s in their own home, with stuff that’s laying around.”

Removing these potentially dangerous drugs from medicine cabinets and the like can make a major difference in preventing pill abuse and/or theft.

The Take Back Box “helps to minimize those risks. It’s a step in the right direction,” Foley said.

The Nashua Police Department also has a Take Back Box in its lobby.

Ms. Stylianos is a Nashua native. Her column is published weekly. She can be reached at