Just say yes to safe, environmentally proper disposal of outdated prescription drugs.
California cities and counties are innovating programs to encourage citizens to bring in outdated prescription drugs. This comes on the heels of a frightening medical study last year that showed how frequently teenagers poke around in parents’ medicine cabinets and abuse leftover pills they find there.
In Central Contra Costa County, four municipal agencies are collaborating on a pilot project providing three sites where citizens can bring batches of dated prescription medications.
“Removing unwanted medications from the homes of our citizens will greatly reduce the risk of abuse by our youth and safeguard the public health,” said Sheriff Warren E. Rupf. Involved in the planning of the sites are the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District and the Central Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority.
Two sites in Martinez — the sheriff’s field operations building and the substation at the regional medical center — are administered by sheriff’s department employees. The third site, at Walnut Creek city hall, is administered by the Walnut Creek Police Department.
“When there’s a common problem, disparate agencies can work together,” said Paul Morsen, executive director of the solid waste authority. “We were trying to provide a broader scope of service to make it more convenient for people.”
The authority is interested because oftentimes, when people clean out the medicine cabinet of an elderly loved one, they throw out a big box of the potentially toxic collection. “We don’t want that stuff in the landfill because it leaks out in the leachate and eventually ends up in the groundwater,” said Morsen. The new disposal option also decreases the likelihood of someone taking a wrong, mislabeled or outdated medication.
The coalition approach comes from a regulation by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration that law enforcement professionals must supervise the drop-off site. Some local municipal officials are hoping that the feds reform these regulations to make it easier to set up collection facilities, Morsen said.
Police agencies are concerned about teenagers turning to dated prescriptions in the home medicine cabinet as a source of a free high — neglecting the properties and side effects of the medications. There’s a rising incidence of accidental poisonings.
Last year, the 13th annual survey of teenagers by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found, for the first time, that it was easier for teens to get their hands on prescription drugs than to obtain beer. That caused a flurry of media interest, and a flurry of interest from cities and counties in setting up collection sites for leftover drugs.
In Napa, the city police department hosted a one-day collection event last fall that brought in 437 pounds of unused pharmaceutical and 211 pounds of home-generated sharps (syringes and needles).
“Research has shown several negative environmental impacts, including abnormal hormonal reactions in several forms of marine life as a result of this type of pollution,” said Bill Gaffney of the Napa Sanitation District.
That was a one-day event. In Contra Costa County, the three sites are open business hours Monday to Friday.
Each site has collected more than 20 pounds a week since the program started Feb. 11, reported Michael Scahill, communications services manager for the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District.
A collection program is “a way of removing a portion of the microconstituent pharmaceuticals that are coming into the wastewater stream,” said Scahill.
Residents are encouraged to take pills out of plastic bottles and put them in sealable plastic bags in the collection receptacle, which looks like a green mailbox at Walnut Creek’s city hall, said Morsen. Next to it is a receptacle for recycling the plastic pill bottles.
The sanitary district contracts to have a private firm pick up and incinerate the waste. The cost is a couple of thousand dollars a month, Scahill said. The district uses a company that also stops at doctors’ offices and hospitals to dispose of medical waste.
After several months, the Central Contra Costa municipalities will evaluate the pilot project. The intent is to demonstrate a model that other cities in the county can replicate, Morsen said, and it appears to be succeeding.
“It will definitely reduce the risk of abuse by teenagers and safeguard the public,” said Lt. Shelly James of the Walnut Creek Police Department.