Volunteer nurses from Maine Medical Center saw a steady stream of business Saturday at the Back Cove parking lot in Portland as dozens of people dropped off their unwanted and unused prescription drugs.

Some people drove up and simply rolled down a car window to hand over a single bottle of pills, while others parked their vehicles and toted large bags of medications to the collection point. The drugs were then boxed up and taped shut by Portland police officers, who carted them away for safe disposal.

Maine Medical Center nurses Lori Baxter, far left, and Heather Meader take two bags full of prescription drugs from a woman dropping them off at the drug take-back station in the Back Cove parking lot on Saturday. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

“They are even turning in pet medications,” said Leslie Knight, a Maine Med registered nurse who was there with about a half-dozen of her nursing colleagues.

It was a scene played out at three other locations in Portland and dozens of other locations across the state. They were participating in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, a biannual event in the spring and fall that started in 2010.

The drug take-back day is aimed at keeping potentially dangerous, expired, unused and unwanted prescription drugs out of the hands of substance abusers and preventing the drugs from contaminating the environment and water supplies.

Unused medications in homes helped fuel the heroin and opioid crisis that has gripped Maine and other states.

Every year the program has grown. Last year, a record-setting 912,305 tons of prescription drugs were collected at 5,300 drop-off sites nationwide.

A bag of pills that a person dropped off in the box at the drug take-back station in the Back Cove parking lot. The station was one of several locations throughout the Portland area for National Prescription Drug Take- Back Day on Saturday. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Knight and her fellow volunteer nurses said they had been working with Portland police since the program’s inception. By the end of the four-hour collection period Saturday, the Back Cove parking lot drop-off volunteers had collected three large boxes of medications from 53 participants.

No one knows how many opioids and other addictive substances are collected at the drop-off events, because the medications are not sorted and they are collected with no questions asked.

During last fall’s take-back day, Maine officials collected 41,700 pounds of medications at 157 drop-off sites, more than any other New England state, according to the DEA. Knight said she expected Saturday’s haul would easily surpass previous numbers.

On Saturday, Portland resident Michael Sweatt drove up with a large bag of medications that belonged to his mother, who recently died. He said he had been on the lookout for a way to safely dispose of them and keep them from the environment.

“Who wants extra drugs around the house anyways?” Sweatt said. “I just wanted to get rid of them.”

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: bquimby