Reno, Nevada

Reducing Prescription Drug Use/Abuse 

Research Partner: University of Nevada, Reno (Dr. Emmanuel Barthe)


Statement of the Problem

The Reno Police Department has a history of dedication to the fight against illegal drugs and their consequences. The Smart Policing Evidence-Based Law Enforcement Initiative now gives the department the opportunity to step up the fight against prescription drug abuse. Washoe County is a growing community of 406,223 citizens. The City of Reno currently has a population of approximately 214,000. In Washoe County, the amount of prescription pills seized by the Regional Street Enforcement Team doubled between 2005 and 2008. The treatment admissions in Washoe County for prescription drug addiction increased 62% from 2007 to 2008. This is a dangerous trend that cannot be ignored.

Strategies and Tactics

The Reno Police Department’s goal is to reduce prescription drug use/abuse and the availability of prescription drugs. The Reno SPI has focused on the following main activities:

  1. Reduce availability of prescription drugs: Activities include informing doctors and pharmacists about “doctor shopping” and other prescription fraud activity; improving pharmacists’ screening of prescriptions and patients; and reviewing prescription monitoring programs.
  2. Educate the public: Activities include establishing a media campaign on pharmacy bags, conducting a prescription drug drop-off event; distributing educational brochures; and establishing a Strengthening Families Program. As part of this activity, Reno SPI has also held a number of training events for prescribers and pharmacists. This training covers the prevalence and consequences of the prescription drug abuse problem, common methods citizens use to obtain prescription drugs, and the role they can play in turning the tide of this epidemic.
  3. Enforce prescription drug laws, including review of prescription monitoring programs: Activities include educating patrol officers about prescription drugs in order to effectively enforce laws regarding illegal possession and distribution of prescription drugs.

The main focus of the supplemental funding phase has been targeting medical professionals (e.g., pharmacists, physicians, and dentists) with training and education on prescription-drug fraud and abuse. The site believes it has been more practical and impactful to focus on the source of prescription drugs rather than on parents and students. 

Research Methodology

The research partner is conducting a process and impact evaluation.

  1. Process Evaluation: This is to determine if the agency followed and carried out the intended plan to reduce prescription drug abuse. In this particular case, there are several different techniques to achieve this goal (improving screening by pharmacists, implementing a prescription monitoring program, carrying out “safe parties,” etc.), and these will be evaluated separately in terms of the process evaluation. The process evaluation will determine the extent to which these activities were implemented as part of this effort
  2. Impact Evaluation: The Impact Evaluation will answer the basic question: Did the activities have the desired effect? Although the rate of the targeted crime problem is the first obvious measure, the police department will also consider other indicators to measure the potential impact of this intervention. The evaluation will examine the impact of the project on the following components: the crime problem, the victims, offenders, pharmacies, and the police department. 

News, Video, and Media 


June 2014 - Community PSA on Prescription Narcotics

In April 2014, the Reno Police Department began a collaboration with Join Together Northern Nevada to create a public service announcement which would focus on prescription pain medications. The Reno SPI project has led to the conviction that in many cases, patients are taking - and often becoming addicted to - prescription pain medication that they do not necessarily need. To combat this, a PSA was created which encourages citizens to educate themselves about narcotic pain medications, carefully consider whether these medications are appropriate for them, and ask their doctors about alternative treatments. The PSA was completed, and will begin airing, in June 2014. 

You can view the PSA below.


May 2014 - Physician and Pharmacist Education

A vital component of the Reno SPI project is reducing the availability of prescription drugs for abuse through education of the medical community - primarily prescribers and pharmacists. These audiences are educated about the prevalence and consequences of the prescription drug abuse problem, common methods citizens use to obtain prescription drugs (including doctor shopping, prescription fraud, and selling of legally prescribed medications), and, most importantly, the role they can play in turning the tide of this epidemic. 

In May 2014, the Reno Police Department partnered with Join Together Northern Nevada and the University of Nevada School of Medicine to offer a final physicians' seminar during the SPI funding period. The main speaker for this event was Dr. Mel Pohl, M.D., FASAM of the Las Vegas Recovery Center. Dr. Pohl spoke about: appropriately and safely prescribing opiate medications to treat pain, alternatives to narcotics, and new trends in pain management. Additional speakers included Lisa Adams of the State of Nevada  Board of Pharmacy, and Sergeant Rick Ayala of the Reno Police Department. This seminar was held live in Reno, NV and was telecast to Elko,  NV. Additionally, Dr. Pohl spoke in a webinar the following morning.  

Photos from the May 2014 Physician and Pharmacist Education event.

As of May 2014, over 450 prescribers and 570 pharmacists have attended these training events. Evaluations of these events have been very encouraging, with a majority of attendees stating that they will modify their practices as a result of the class. The SPI research partner is working to gather pre- and post-training data to see whether physicians' prescribing practices were in fact changed as a result of the education they received. 

In addition, the SPI Project Coordinator was asked by the Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners to submit multiple articles about prescription fraud and abuse for their newsletter. Different guest articles were featured in the June 2012 and December 2013 newsletters. These newsletters are sent out to every prescriber in the state of Nevada. The Project Coordinator was also asked to submit an article for the Washoe County Medical Society newsletter, and it was featured in the January/February 2014 issue. These were fantastic avenues of getting important information out to the medical community in Nevada.


Prescription Drug Round Up Total Surpasses 1 Million Pills

In April 2014 the Reno Police Department co-sponsored the area's tenth Prescription Drug Round Up event. The Prescription Drug Round Up offers community members a chance to turn in their old and unused prescription medications, with no questions asked, for proper disposal. These events are the result of a combined effort with many other community partners, including Join Together Northern Nevada, Sparks Police Department, Washoe County Sheriff's Office, Truckee Meadows Water Authority, Scolari's Food and Drug, Save Mart, Walgreens, Waste Management, and many others. To date, the ten Round Ups have resulted in a total of 1,268,540 prescription pills collected and safely destroyed.



Left: Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (center) at our first Prescription Drug Round Up. Right: A portion of the 268,000+ pills collected at the fifth Prescription Drug Round Up

May 2013 - SPI Team Members Featured on "Face the State" Program

In May of 2013 the SPI Project Coordinator and a Detective assigned to investigate prescription fraud were invited to appear on the local "Face the State" television program, to discuss the issues of prescription drug abuse and what the Reno Police Department is doing to combat it. The video of this interview can be viewed here.

Reno Drug Initiative Acknowledged by the White House and at the POP Conference

The Reno Police Department was asked to post a blog on their Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Initiative for the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy. Reno's Smart Policing Initiative focuses on prescription drug abuse, and highlights the importance of Smart Policing practices for innovative policing. In addition, in October 2011 several officers and personnel from the Reno Police Department attended the International Problem Oriented Policing Conference in Miami, Florida. Lieutenant Mac Venzon, Stacy Shamblin and Professor Manny Barthe gave a presentation on their Prescription Drug Round Ups and other operations, which was well received and complimented by personnel from several agencies.

May 2014 - Conference Presentations

The Reno SPI team was invited to present about their Smart Policing Initiative project at the 2011 Center for Problem-Oriented Policing conference on October 10-12th, 2011. The presentation was very well received, and allowed the Reno SPI team to share its initial findings with representatives from law enforcement agencies across the country as well as internationally.

The team has also presented about the Reno SPI project at the 2011 Western Association of Criminal Justice conference in Reno, NV on October 20th, 2011, the American Society of Criminology conference in Washington, D.C. on November 18th, 2011, the Western Regional Training Workshop on the SMART Policing Initiative on May 3rd, 2013 and the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences annual meeting in Philadelphia in February 2014. 


August 2011 - On August 16, 2011 CNA conducted a site visit, on behalf of BJA, to Reno to learn of the progress the site has completed to date.



The Reno SPI team partnered with the Washoe County School District to create a DVD (above) that educates students about the dangers and effects of prescription drug abuse. The video features interviews with an ER doctor, a juvenile court judge, and local parents who lost their son to a prescription drug overdose. The DVD will be shown to 27,500 middle and high school students across Washoe County. A parent version of the video was also created and distributed to parents community-wide.

Sergeant Mac Venzon - Reno Police Department

Sgt. Venzon provides a program overview.


Stacy Shamblin - Reno Police Department

Ms. Shamblin provides a SPI program update at the September 2011 SPI National Meeting in Alexandria, VA.

February 2012 - Permanent Prescription Drug Drop Boxes Installed
In Feburary of 2012, the Reno Police Department partnered with other local law enforcement agencies to launch a new initiative - permanent prescription drug drop boxes. SPI funding was used to purchase the drop boxes, which are now available in police stations during regular business hours. These boxes offer a new, convenient way for citizens to drop off their unwanted and unused medications, so that they are not available for diversion and abuse. Local media covered the story. The drop boxes will supplement the semi-annual Prescription Drug Round Up events.

2010 Pharmacy Bag Sticker Campaign
In early 2010, the Reno Police Department launched a public education campaign involving partnership with local pharmacies. The Reno SPI team created a sticker with information about prescription drug abuse and proper disposal, to be placed on pharmacy bags. To date, over 300,000 of the "P.A.S.S. It On" stickers have been distributed to community members.

"P.A.S.S. It On" Pharmacy Bag Sticker

 As a component of the Reno SPI project, the Reno Police Department has purchased over 800 MedSafe locking medicine cabinets. These cabinets offer community members - particularly parents - a way to safely store their prescription medications so that they do not fall into the wrong hands. MedSafes have been distributed at parent training events and at the Prescription Drug Round Up events.



ONDCP's 2011 National Drug Control Strategy

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Preventing Prescription Painkiller Overdoses

The Partnership at DrugFree.Org - 2012 PATS Survey Data

Get Connected with Reno SPI

SPI Team Member Contact Information:

Stacy Ward, SPI Coordinator, Reno Police Department:  (775) 657-4794

Mac Venzon, Deputy Chief, Reno Police Department

Dr. Emmanuel Barthe, Research Partner, University of Nevada Reno  (775) 784-6334


Medical Board Newsletter - June 2012.pdf584.51 KB
Opioids misuse and abuse.pdf996.83 KB
Cumulative Totals with Charts - May 2013.doc49 KB
Prescription Drug Round Up - Press Release - May 2011.DOC5.12 MB
Round Up April 30th Flyer.pdf522.11 KB
Pharmacist training flyer - Feb 2011.pdf1.06 MB