Annapolis, MD: Keep Old or Expired Drugs Secure
Information about the drug take-back day sponsored by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) on Sept. 25 prompted a Greater Annapolis Patch reader to ask how they're disposing of the collected drugs. Heather Macintosh of Bay Ridge sent an e-mail expressing concern that the drugs could end up in the groundwater. She also wondered what people should do with their unwanted drugs since pharmacies don't provide disposal services.
The back pain may have gone away or that nasty infection has finally cleared. But the pills remain, gathering dust in your medicine cabinet. And drug officials said flushing them down the toilet just isn't cutting it any more, with flushed prescription pills leading to problems with the water supply in some areas.
Local and federal drug officials said they are worried over an increase in the number of cases of teens abusing old meds. That's what led to the DEA's first-ever drug take-back day. While the totals aren't in for Maryland, tons of expired drugs were collected at the 3,400 sites around the country.
A spokesman for the Anne Arundel County Police Department said the department collected more than 250 pounds of unused or expired meds.
If you missed the drug take-back day, what do you do now?
Drug-enforcement officials said the best thing to do now is to hold on to them and keep them secure. Don't flush them or toss them in the trash, where they may fall into the wrong hands.
Barbara Carreno, DEA spokeswoman, said the best bet may be to wait until next year when the program will likely be repeated. She said the initial national program was a success and officials are already discussing making it an annual event.
It's needed because you can't take the meds back to the pharmacy. Carreno said pharmacies are prohibited from accepting someone else's drugs under the Controlled Substances Act. In accordance with the act, pharmacies, hospitals and doctor's offices all have a protocol to follow to dispose of their outdated medicine, she said.
If someone is unsure what to do with their meds, they also can contact their local police department, Carreno said. During the national event in September, residents were able to drop their old meds at several police stations throughout the county.
"There was a good turnout at the police department's four districts and the agency will continue to work closely with our federal partners going forward," county police spokesman Justin Mulcahy said.
He said the department doesn't have any plans at this time for another take-back event.
In the meantime, there is a spattering of groups attempting to organize similar efforts in their communities, though Carreno said she had not heard of any locally.
One group, A Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey, is organizing another take-back event and so far has more than 30 states signed up to participate. There are only three drop-off points scheduled for the American Medicine Chest Challenge, the name of the New Jersey-organized program. The nearest drop-off site for Greater Annapolis is in Kent County on the Eastern Shore.
Carreno said the Controlled Substances Act doesn't contain any provisions for disposing of old drugs, which is contributing to the problems. She said her department has been seeing an increase in the number of incidents of teens abusing the medications with pill parties.
Rates of prescription drug abuse in the United States are increasing at alarming rates, as are the number of accidental poisonings and overdoses due to these drugs, according to a DEA press release. Studies show that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet.
"Prescription drug abuse is the nation's fastest-growing drug problem, and take-back events like this one are an indispensable tool for reducing the threat that the diversion and abuse of these drugs pose to public health," said Director of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske in a release. "The federal/state/and local collaboration represented in this initiative is key in our national efforts to reduce pharmaceutical drug diversion and abuse."
Carreno also said flushing the pills can lead to environmental issues.
"The EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] is seeing pharmaceutical drugs show up in the water supply in certain areas," Carreno said. "Even if it's not enough to harm people, it's enough to affect the eco system."
All of the medications collected during the national event will be incinerated by the DEA.