LECOM medication disposal event prevents drugs from entering the Lake Erie water supply

Hundreds of pounds of medications that could have ended up in landfills, flushed into the sewage system, or ended up in the hands of children went to an incinerator for safe disposal following a medication take-back event in Erie.

These are some of the unwanted and expired medications collected during the medication recovery and disposal event held Aug. 20 at the LECOM Medical Fitness & Wellness Center.

The Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine School of Pharmacy and Pennsylvania Sea Grant sponsored a medication recovery and disposal event on Saturday Aug. 20.  LECOM School of Pharmacy faculty members and students collected unwanted and expired medications at the LECOM John M. & Silvia Ferretti Medical Fitness and Wellness Center in Erie, Pa.

More than 100 citizens brought in unused over-the-counter medications, supplements, prescription drugs, and controlled substances. LECOM pharmacy students sorted the loose pills, caplets, vials, and solutions and asked patients why the medications were not ingested. The information will help them determine which medications are not being used and the reasons why.          

Elliott Cook, Pharm.D., LECOM School of Pharmacy Assistant Professor, explains how discarded medications can get into the water supply and remain undetectable to the human eye during a news conference at the LECOM Medical Fitness & Wellness Center Aug. 19.

LECOM School of Pharmacy assistant professor Elliott Cook, Pharm.D., said the improper disposal of medications is a major problem. He said many patients throw unwanted medications in the garbage or flush them down the toilet, which is not recommended. “The majority of pharmaceuticals are carbon compounds that can leak into our environment or the water supply,” Dr. Cook states. 

In addition to environmental concerns, unused medications sitting in home medicine cabinets can create patient safety issues and lead to substance abuse. Dr. Cook said seventy percent of those who abuse drugs started by getting their drugs from the medicine cabinets of friends or relatives.  

Pennsylvania Sea Grant has co-sponsored three medication collection events with the LECOM School of Pharmacy since April 2008. Hundreds of pounds of unwanted medications were collected each time. “We all agree that getting these drugs out of the environment and properly destroyed benefits the community,” said Marti Martz, a coastal outreach specialist for Pennsylvania Sea Grant.

LECOM pharmacy student Sarah Swanson talks to a woman who brought in unwanted medications for the medication recovery and disposal event sponsored by the LECOM School of Pharmacy and Pennsylvania Sea Grant.

“Incineration is the only way to break the carbon compounds down and dispose of medications properly,” Dr. Cook explained. The registered disposal company ECS&R hauled away the collected pharmaceuticals and incinerated them in a safe, controlled environment.

Event organizers say there is currently no established solution for the proper disposal of medications in Erie County or Pennsylvania. The community must rely on the efforts of private groups like LECOM and Pennsylvania Sea Grant to organize medication recovery and disposal events. For those who couldn’t make it to this event, another will be held in October.

LECOM pharmacy students Denise Traficante and Matt Madurski collect and catalog unwanted medications during the medication recovery and disposal event Aug. 20 at the LECOM Medical Fitness & Wellness Center.

Dr. Cook recommends storing expired or unwanted medications by locking them away in a safe place so they don’t fall into the wrong hands. He said to hang on to them until they can be disposed of properly. If getting to a disposal event isn’t possible and storage is not an option, Dr. Cook says mixing the medications with cat litter and throwing them in the garbage is the next best thing, but that does not always prevent dangerous compounds from leaching into groundwater.


August 24, 2011
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