Monday, September 20th, 2010
By Shelley Grieshop
Safe disposal
Officials offer free, anonymous drug disposal
  Expired, unused and unwanted drugs left on bathroom shelves can spur crime and even cause death.
Finding a place to properly dispose of these drugs - particularly strong prescription painkillers - also is problem, officials say.
"From a law enforcement standpoint, any drugs that are in medicine cabinets that are no longer being used have the potential of being circulated throughout the community illegally," Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey said.
Grey is teaming up with the local health department and an area counseling agency to anonymously help residents dispose of unwanted medications for free - even illegal drugs with no questions asked.
Saturday is the first-ever drug disposal day in Mercer County. The program is being held 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the former Walmart building in Celina.
The local event is in conjunction with the first nationwide prescription drug "Take-Back Day," headed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Washington, D.C. According to the DEA, 3,400 drug drop-off sites have been established across the U.S.
Strong painkillers such as morphine and fentanyl are frequently stolen from private residences and abused or sold on the streets. In a recent study by the U.S. Department of Health, approximately 9 percent of youths and nearly 5 percent of adults admitted to abusing or selling prescription medications not meant for them.
Grey said his office has dealt with such scenarios. In one recent case, a local juvenile stole pain medication from his grandfather's house - without the elderly man's knowledge - and attempted to sell three of the pills to an undercover officer. The teen needed money to buy gasoline.
"By disposing of pills no longer needed, we can reduce the likelihood of juveniles making a poor choice, as was the case with this child," Grey said.
Residents often are bewildered on how to dispose of drugs after a loved one dies or what to do with prescriptions that have expired, according to Joyce Jansen, director of nursing at the Mercer County-Celina City Health Department.
"A lot of people have stopped in or called the health department and asked how to get rid of their meds. Many didn't want to flush them as they were told to do so," she said. "It's a shame that there isn't a program to take the leftover meds - and with a doctor's prescription - be able to redispense them to those without the resources to purchase them."
Jansen said she knows such a practice wouldn't be practical or safe since someone may have stored the drugs improperly or touched them with unclean hands.
"It's just a shame to throw things out when others have to do without," she added.
Pills that are thrown in the trash can be accidentally ingested by small children or pets. Flushing them down the toilet can cause environmental hazards. Trace levels of drug residue are typically found in rivers and lakes and in some community drinking water supplies due to medication flushing.
Legislation is pending that would abolish the practice of flushing drugs, Jansen said, adding some area nursing homes recently told her they still follow that practice.
Tim Lakes, interim pharmacy director at Joint Township District Memorial Hospital in St. Marys, said the hospital uses a licensed hazardous waste service to incinerate unused drugs. Expired medications are repackaged by manufacture representatives who take them back for disposal, he said.
"The only thing that goes down our drains are liquids like saline solutions, no medications," he said. "We definitely wouldn't want drugs, particularly chemo (chemotherapy) drugs, going into the water supply."
If residents wish to dispose of drugs on their own, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises to first take the medication out of its original container and mix it with an undesirable substance such as coffee grounds or kitty litter. This makes the drug less appealing to youngsters and pets. Next put it in a sealable bag, empty can or other container to prevent leakage before discarding in the trash.
Medications dropped off on Saturday will be turned over to a licensed medical disposal company for proper destruction, Grey said. Illegal drugs will be disposed of by the sheriff's office after obtaining a court order to do so, he said.
"We just want to get the drugs off the streets," he added.

If you go:
What: Drug drop-off day
When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Former Walmart building, 1951 Havemann Road, Celina
Details: Residents can turn in unused or expired medications for safe disposal. No liquids or needles accepted.
The event is sponsored by the Mercer County-Celina City Health Department, the Mercer County Sheriff's Office and Gateway Outreach Center of Celina.
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