REPS drug drop-off nets trash can full of pills

Government guidelines offer advice for personal Rx disposal

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At a glance

Medicine should be disposed of when it is no longer needed or is expired. According to guidelines from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, most prescription drugs may be thrown in the trash, out of the original container, mixed with an undesirable substance such as kitty litter or coffee grounds and sealed in a container with a lid or in a plastic bag.

More dangerous medications, including morphine, oxycodone and methadone, should be flushed down the toilet to prevent danger to people and pets. For a full list of medications that should be flushed, visit www.fda.gov.>

On Tuesday, you break your shoulder. ER doctors fix you up and give you a prescription for pain medication. By Thursday, you realize that you don't want to take any more medication and you stop taking the pills. But your prescription has half a bottle left.

Those drugs are now prime picking for Routt County teenagers to abuse, either alone or mixed with alcohol and other prescription drugs.

That's why the Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide group staged a drug drop-off at Yampa Valley Medical Center's fall health fair Saturday. Suicide Prevention Coordinator Ronna Autrey said the group collected about a kitchen trash can's worth of prescription medications and samples during the event.

YVMC spokeswoman Christine McKelvie said 901 people had low-cost blood tests during the fair, including patients who signed up for appointments from Oct. 6 to 9. On the day of the fair, McKelvie said lines formed as early as 6:45 a.m., before the fair's opening at 7:30. Five doctors, two dentists and 139 volunteers, including those administering the blood draws, joined several education booths.

At the REPS booth, Autrey said about 15 people dropped off medication, including several people who brought in stockpiles of unwanted meds.

"We didn't count them because people brought bags of them," Autrey said.

The prescriptions were not examined, she said, but she said she noticed pain prescriptions and antidepressants among those dropped off.

YVMC disposed of the drugs for the drop-off but does not accept medication on a regular basis.

Autrey said REPS might host drop-off points at future events where the security of the medications can be monitored. In the meantime, those with excess medication are encouraged to dispose of the drugs themselves.

Jennifer Campbell, pharmacist at Lyon's Corner Drug, said pharmacists would assist people who are uncomfortable throwing out medication, but in general she advises customers to throw the drugs away.

Autrey and Campbell said that they do not recommend flushing the drugs down the toilet because recent studies, including a groundwater survey by the U.S. Geological Survey, indicate that trace amounts of prescription drugs were found in groundwater.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommendations largely follow that advice. For most prescription drugs, the FDA suggests dumping the prescription out of its original container - easy to spot in a trash can - and mixing the pills with an undesirable material such as cat litter or coffee grounds and placing them in a sealed container or a plastic bag before disposal. The Office of National Drug Control Policy also suggests removing or obscuring the labels on prescription drug bottles before throwing them in the trash.

But for certain more potentially dangerous medicines, the FDA still recommends flushing.

"We are aware of recent reports that have noted trace amounts of medicines in the water system," guidelines on the FDA Web site state. "The majority of medicines found in the water system are a result of the body's natural routes of drug elimination (in urine or feces). Scientists, to date, have found no evidence of harmful effects to human health from medicines in the environment."

Generally only the most potentially dangerous drugs, including morphine, oxycodone and methadone, should be flushed down the toilet to prevent danger to people and pets.

For a list of medications that should be flushed, visit www.fda.gov.

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