The war on dangerous prescription drugs could be heating up in Mount Airy, where police are hoping to acquire their own incinerator to destroy pills disposed of by the public.
They now must rely on services of an area business for that function, and say that the mobile incinerating device envisioned would have a dual purpose. This includes providing a cost-effective means of eradicating unwanted or unused medications, and illustrating to the public that the drugs are being taken off the streets forever.
“We just think that speaks volumes,” Police Chief Dale Watson said regarding the impact of the latter practice.
“The drug incinerator is the number one priority,” said Watson of special equipment needed by his department, but which isn’t being provided through normal budgetary channels.
That’s where the group Friends of the Mount Airy Police Department comes into the picture. It has worked since 2011 to generate funds to assist with such items.
So far this has included a rough-terrain vehicle officers can use to patrol off-road areas such as greenways, for which most of the cost was picked up by an anonymous donor. A special tactical vest for use in potentially violent narcotics and other operations also has been provided.
Friends of the Mount Airy Police Department raised about $14,000 through various efforts in its first year alone. And the group is continuing that with an upcoming raffle contest, in order to help with the drug incinerator and other equipment, according to Melanie Jones, one of its organizers.
A major gift in that regard — nearly $700 to the support group — has been made through donations by graduates of the most recent class of the annual Citizens Police Academy. After learning about city law enforcement operations during the 10-week program, participants just “wanted to do something” to help, Jones said.
She pointed out that many Citizens Police Academy graduates have joined the Friends of the Mount Airy Police Department, including 15 new members.
Incinerators that are on the market can be costly. “Typically, the ones we have looked at are around $4,500,” the police chief said. “They’re quite expensive.”
However, a lower-cost alternative is being pursued.
“We do have a local fabricator who is designing one now,” Watson said of King’s Portable Welding & Fabricating.
It is expected to be funded through donations by the police support group, although Watson said the final figure has not been determined.
While marijuana crops can simply be torched, the process is more involved when disposing of prescription pills. They have to be burned to ashes, Watson said of a procedure that must meet guidelines of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The incinerator would be used to destroy medications collected at a 24-hour drop box in the police station lobby, where about 237,000 pills have been disposed of since December 2011. Local officials also hold an Operation Medicine Drop campaign in the Walmart parking each year as another outlet.
“We feel as though there will be plenty of opportunities to use that in the future,” Watson said of the incinerator.
In the past, drugs collected during that effort have been transported to a field office of the State Bureau of Investigation for disposal. That service was offered on a yearly basis as part of the special campaign, but hasn’t addressed the need for a regular means of disposal, which can be a $600 expense.
Watson said the pills taken in are now destroyed on a quarterly basis.
The new incinerator eyed for the department would be kept at the police station, but also could be taken to remote locations such as Operation Medicine Drop to dispose of the potentially deadly medications so the public can see.
“It’s a small device — it can be hauled on a small trailer,” the police chief said.
“The fact that the community can see those medications being destroyed, it just reiterates our commitment to a safe community,” Watson said of alleviating a problem linked to around 50 Surry County overdose deaths in the last two calendar years.
No environmental problems will result from the incineration, he said. “There shouldn’t be any issues.”
Watson is hoping to add the new equipment by the fall, depending on the success of fundraising efforts by Friends of the Mount Airy Police Department.
“It’s a great group of individuals,” Watson said of its members, calling them “stakeholders who see a need in our community.”
He added, “The friends (group) has been instrumental in the acquisition of items which traditionally couldn’t be supported through our local government.”
Another need for city police is a Smart Board to aid with classroom instruction, for both officers and the Citizens Police Academy, which can cost $6,000 to $7,000.
Friends of the Mount Airy Police Department also is buying 100 bike helmets for officers to give to children who participate in a bike rodeo and safety course during a Healthy Kids Day event on May 4.
The group will be raffling five $100 gift cards during June. They include a gas card, a VISA card and cards from the Lowe’s home improvement store, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart. One card will be raffled each Saturday in June.
Tickets cost $5 each or $20 for a book of five.
They can be obtained by calling or emailing Friends of the Mount Airy Police Department at 352-3558 or email@example.com.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.