- What makes you passionate about National Drug Take-Back Day? At the Texas Panhandle Poison Center, we actually started our medication take back program prior to inception of the DEA’s National Take Back Day. It was nice to see a national program begin with similar goals. I am passionate about the medication take back program because it provides the opportunity for families to reduce the risk of medication-related poisonings occurring in their homes. Aside from the fact that young children are poisoned by medications every day, we are in the midst of a crisis with teen suicides. This is occurring primarily in young girls and has become notably worse with the COVID pandemic. Because teens tend to be so impulsive, they can make a split second decision to turn to the family medicine cabinet for relief from life’s burdens. This impulsive decision can lead to illness and even death. By conducting take back events, and reducing or eliminating unused medications from the home, we can effectively reduce the risk of a catastrophic event.
- How long have you been involved in this program? Our poison center began conducting take back events in the spring of 2009. We have conducted events bi-annually every year since inception with exception of the first spring following the COVID outbreak. So, we are now at 13 years. Initially, we started the event in our host town of Amarillo. However, recognizing the magnitude of the need for disposal options, we quickly expanded to Abilene and Lubbock. These are all cities in which our host institution, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Jerry H. Hodge School of Pharmacy has campuses, and therefore, we can conduct events at little cost to our program. To date, we have collected almost 70,000 pounds of unused medications and medical sharps for appropriate disposal.
- Why is it essential for the TPCN to partner with the DEA on this much-needed resource? The DEA has been an incredible partner for our take back program, as have our local law enforcement entities. In order to remain compliant with regulations, law enforcement presence is required at all events. While the DEA does not provide agents for manning our events, we are able to partner with local law enforcement. The DEA assists with facilitating participation and they help us keep costs down by providing disposal services for the medications that are collected. They work very closely with us to schedule collection pick up and to provide reports regarding the amount collected. We are able to pick up the phone and call them any time we have a question or need their assistance. They are truly part of the team.
- Why do you think people hold onto old medications, even when they expire? The general public has received the message that medications should not be disposed of in the trash or by flushing down the toilet or the drain. However, they usually are not told how they CAN dispose of the items. So, the result is that they hang on to them in their homes, sometimes indefinitely. At our events, we frequently see loads of medications brought for disposal following the death of a loved one. These medications may have sat in a closet or medication for years and in many cases, even for decades.
- How should people dispose of old or unneeded medication? The current gold standard for medication disposal in through participation in a take back program. But, if a program is not available in an area, there are other options. Many pharmacies and some clinics now have medication disposal kiosks in place. These often include 24-hour Walgreens or CVS locations and some Walmart pharmacies. The DEA maintains a searchable database on their website to help people locate a year-round disposal kiosk. If there is an upcoming event, the DEA database will provide locations near the individual for take back day. After the take back day has concluded, the database will provide year-round sites. This is found at TakeBackDay.dea.gov.
- What if someone cannot get to a medication take-back site? What is the next best way to dispose of the medication safely? If someone cannot get to a take-back site, or if they miss an event, there are other methods for disposal. As mentioned above, year-round disposal kiosks are available in many communities. Also, some local law enforcement agencies have disposal kiosks, so people may want to call their police department or sheriff’s department to ask. If none of these options work, we recommend the “kitty litter” of the “coffee grounds” method for disposal. This involves mixing the medications with something undesirable, like kitty litter or coffee ground, sealing the bag or container, and then disposing of that directly into a trash receptacle – preferable a dumpster or outdoor receptacle that is inaccessible to children or animals.
- What is your hope for the outcome when it comes to this program? My hope is that eventually take back days will be unnecessary. If every pharmacy provides access to a medication disposal kiosk, the public would have ready access to a disposal option at any time in any community. And, fortunately, we are moving in this direction, albeit slowly. Our poison center installed a disposal kiosk in our host institution pharmacy in 2016. At that time, it was the only location in our city where people could dispose of their unused medications aside from a take back event. Now, Amarillo has at least 15 separate locations for disposal, including both of our county sheriffs’ departments, CVS, Walgreens, the Amarillo Pharmaceutical Care Center, and others. I’d really also like to see consumers actively work to reduce the number of medications they keep in their homes. When I was young, we didn’t have 24 hour pharmacies or pharmacies that were open on weekends, so it was a necessity to have an “emergency supply”. However, with the convenience we have today, it’s not necessary to do this any longer and it does create a risk. For prescription medications, it would be better if people who are starting a new medication do not get a 90-day fill for their first time. That way, if they don’t tolerate the medication or if it doesn’t work, they are not stuck with all of the excess. We also see a lot of waste occurring due to mail orders. Consumers need to actively call their mail-order companies and ensure that medication delivery is stopped if they already have an adequate supply or if they no longer need it. Once medications are dispensed to the consumer, they cannot be returned due to safety reasons. So, it is really important to get medication delivery stopped ASAP when it’s no longer needed. As consumers, we also need to stop buying large quantities of over-the-counter medications at one time. We may think we are getting a good deal or discount, but if we stop and consider how long it would take to use all of the supply, we would find that the medication is likely to expire before we can use it all.
- Can people call the poison control number to get information on where they can dispose of expired or unwanted medications at any time of the year? If anyone has a family member or friend who has ingested a medication they shouldn’t have, they can call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222. This includes those who may have had a toddler or young child who got into medications, as well as older children and even adults who have taken a medication mistakenly or intentionally as a self-harm gesture.
- Anything else you would like to add? Science has provided us with many medications that improve our lives from day to day and sometimes even save our lives. But, it’s important to remember that we have a responsibility with those medications, to take them as directed by our healthcare provider, to store them securely, and to dispose of them when they are no longer needed.
Med Cleanout - https://youtu.be/mV2mRwbWgwI
Volunteers - https://youtu.be/WVqVdr55idY