NEWARK, N.J. - Seven tons of potentially dangerous drugs are off the streets thanks to the New Jersey National Guard Counter Drug Task Force and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
It's all because of "Operation Take Back New Jersey," on Oct. 31, when 14,527 pounds of unused, unwanted, and expired medications were taken to the Essex County Resource Recovery Facility in Newark, N.J. where they were incinerated.
Since 2009, the program's goal has been to get dangerous prescription painkillers out of the household and to prevent teens from raiding medicine cabinets.
Operation Take Back New Jersey began with collection boxes at 185 locations throughout the state, mainly at police stations. People were encouraged to stop by these locations on Oct. 28 for National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. From there, the drugs were gathered at collection points, and picked up by Soldiers from the New Jersey National Guard in tactical vehicles capable of handling heavy loads.
For Staff Sgt. Roger Galvez, a Counter Drug Task Force veteran, the call to service comes easy.
"We do this for the communities," said Galvez, who started out as a truck driver before finding his calling with the Task Force. "It's a great feeling knowing that by helping, we're potentially taking these drugs off the streets."
After collecting the boxes and bags of drugs, the National Guard Soldiers and Drug Enforcement Administration agents transported them to Essex County to be destroyed.
"Every year, since we've been doing the National Take back, the DEA and the National Guard have worked side-by-side with collection and transportation of the prescriptions," said Special Agent Timothy McMahon from the DEA. "The National Guard is a huge help in collecting a lot of pills in a short amount of time and then getting them to the destruction point."
At the end of the day, moving almost 15,000 pounds of drugs was worth all the effort, according to Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Sbarro.
"Drugs are too readily available," said Sbarro, a New Jersey National Guard Soldier with the Counter Drug Task Force. "So many young people are, sad to say, dying, and it doesn't have to be that way."
The efforts of the program and other like it may have led to a 45 percent decline in the misuse of scripts among teenagers from 2011-2016 according to Federal statistics.