An editorial in the April 22 Tomahawk Leader:
News that prescription medications are getting into the wrong hands in our schools has shocked and worried many. But how’s a person supposed to dispose of those unused pills if police departments, pharmacies and hospitals aren’t equipped to handle disposal on a regular basis?
Currently used drugs should be kept under lock and key, we’re told, since there are growing reports of theft of medications from relatives.
But how many of us have bottles of unused pills sitting around, perhaps forgotten?
Throwing leftover drugs away in the trash isn't a good idea because of the risk of identity theft, says Mary Kohrell, a University of Wisconsin-Extension community resource development educator.
"We know that people dumpster-dive for old medicine containers," says Kohrell. "With the personal information found on the labels, they can refill the prescriptions. Some of these medications can be addictive or have potential for abuse, so there is concern by law enforcement.”
And, we’re told that research has found that flushing unwanted pills down the toilet or sink could end up tainting our drinking water supply.
"For a long time, we've been focused on mercury and industrial contaminants in the air and water," says Steve Brachman, UW-Extension waste reduction specialist. "Now we realize that there's a whole new bevy of chemicals being released into the environment from leftover medications."
Twenty-eight American cities recently found aspirin, antibiotics and drugs used to treat seizures and heart problems in their public drinking water supplies. Although the amounts sound small, it's unknown whether they pose a threat to human health.
So what are the alternatives?
In Winnebago and Waukesha counties, there’s a pilot program underway, “Wisconsin Old Medicines Mail Back Pilot,” in which pharmacists inform customers about a toll-free number to call for a pre-paid shipping label and packing materials to return leftover drugs. Capital Returns, a designated reverse distributor for pharmaceuticals in Milwaukee, is cataloging all received materials and arranging for proper disposal.
State and local organizations in many Wisconsin communities are beginning to hold collection days for old medicines, similar to the "clean sweep" drop-offs for household hazardous wastes, like one held some time ago in Merrill.
Tomahawk Mayor Bob Lee has signed an agreement with Oneida County to coordinate a prescription drug drop-off event Oct. 25 at Sacred Heart Hospital. Plans are still being finalized.
In the meantime, Saint Mary’s Hospital and the Oneida County Solid Waste Department have collaborated on a medication disposal this weekend. Collection will take place Saturday, April 26 from 10 a.m. to noon at the hospital, North Shore Lane, as part of that day’s Community Health and Wellness Fair. No chemotherapy drugs or used needles or lancets can be accepted, and medications need to be in their original containers – don’t mix them. Cross out the name on the outside of the bottle with a black, permanent marker.
A Brown County recycling manager says that up to 60 percent of prescribed medications are never ingested, posing a variety of health hazards.
Here’s your chance to help keep our environment and our kids healthier simply by properly disposing of something you no longer want or need.