Most people’s medicine cabinets contain either expired or unwanted over-the-counter and/or prescription drugs. With the rise in prescription drug abuse, in particular opioids, keeping these medications in the home isn’t safe. Fortunately, thanks to recent federal, state, and local efforts, more opportunities have been created to help people safely dispose of unwanted drugs.
In the past, people often disposed of their unused medicine by throwing it in the garbage or flushing it down the toilet. While these out-of-sight, out-of-mind solutions were easy, there is now evidence that throwing medicine in the garbage can result in it getting into the wrong hands. Furthermore, flushing medicine down the toilet can result in toxic material getting into our waterways. In effort to address these problems, in particular drugs getting into the wrong hands, in 2010 the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) began to host National Prescription Drug Take-Back days. These take-back days, held twice a year, have resulted in literally tons of medications being safely disposed of each year. In New York alone, more than 18 tons of unused medication was collected during the 2016 take back days.
In addition to the National Prescription Drug Take-Back days, local law enforcement in coordination with area drug prevention groups have established local drug take-back sites. These sites are located at police departments. In Onondaga County, the police departments of Baldwinsville, Camillus, Cicero, DeWitt, Geddes, Manlius, Marcellus and Syracuse participate and in Oswego County, the city of Oswego police department participates. At the participating police stations, people can anonymously drop off unwanted medicine by placing it in specially marked boxes that hold between 30 and 40 gallons of pharmaceuticals.
To encourage collection sites beyond police stations, the DEA now allows retail pharmacies and drug treatment programs to collect controlled substances provided that the pharmacy or drug treatment program become authorized collectors. This has resulted in some private pharmacies offering drug take-back boxes. In addition, the state recently created a Pilot Pharmaceutical Take-Back program. This program was designed specifically for pharmacies, hospitals and medical clinics. The program is free for the participating site for the first two years and following the two-year period, the sponsoring site would be responsible for costs incurred related to managing the collection and proper disposal of the drugs. The pilot program is being administered by the State Department of Environmental Conservation and $1 million was set aside in the budget last year to fund the program. To find out more about the new collection program, visit dec.ny.gov/chemical/108213.html.
While it is hard to know how much these drug take-back sites are preventing drug abuse, taking unused drugs out of the house is reducing their availability. Law enforcement at the sites can also help people who may be in need of drug treatment access help. Fewer drugs in the house can also prevent accidental ingestion especially when the drugs, if ingested by the unintended user, can be fatal. Whether you are concerned about drug abuse, the environment or general safety, safely disposing disposal of medicine is something we should all strive to do.
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