Hospital to host new 24/7 drop box for unused prescription meds
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The new, green drop box located right inside the doors of the emergency department at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center provides the community with a safe and secure way to dispose of medications.
“It’s been a problem for years,” said Wes Hunter, director of pharmacy. “People show up at the pharmacy wanting to get rid of stuff, but by law, the pharmacy can’t accept medication from anyone who isn’t licensed.”
Hunter applied for a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment grant to install the new drop box as part of the Colorado Household Medication Take-Back Program.
Previously, unused or expired medications were accepted by the Routt County Sheriff’s Office. Law enforcement is under different regulations than hospitals in terms of acceptance and disposal of prescription medications. However, the program stipulates just one official location in the town, said Jennifer Hubbard, record technician and property and evidence technician for the Sheriff’s Office.
Hubbard said the drop-off location at the Sheriff’s Office has been successful over the past several years, and she is happy the service will continue.
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Expired or unused medications sitting in medicine cabinets “aren’t doing anyone any good,” Hubbard said, adding they can be dangerous if someone else takes them.
- Prescription medications, including prescribed controlled substances (DEA Schedule II-V)
- Over-the-counter medications
- Liquid medications (small amounts in original, nonleaking containers)
- Medicated patches except used Fentanyl and Duragesic patches, which are extremely hazardous. They may be folded in half sticky-side together and flushed down the toilet
- Medication samples
- Medicated ointments
- Pet medications
- Unused drug injection cartridges, e.g. unused EpiPens and insulin pens (must be unused with needles still packaged inside)
- Unused inhaler canisters, e.g. Advair, Spiriva, ProAir and Ventolin (must be unused, no empty canisters or unneeded plastic holders/mouth pieces)
- Illicit drugs (e.g. DEA Schedule I drugs like heroin, LSD, etc.)
- Needles, syringes and other sharps
- Chemotherapy drugs
- Medical tools and supplies
- Bloody or infectious waste
- Personal care products
- Empty containers
- Medication wastes generated by health care facilities, including nursing homes
“We’ve all heard the horror stories of kids getting into their parents’ medicine cabinet or their friends getting in,” Hunter said.
A major factor that went into the decision to locate the drop box at the hospital was having the box closely manned by 24-hour staff.
Hunter also pointed to the danger of medications being used incorrectly by the person to whom they were prescribed — in the event the drugs are expired or if someone saves old medication and then uses the pills at a different time for a different reason without medical guidance.
With antibiotics, for example, if used a second time around, they may not be a full course and may not be the right type, Hunter said.
Doctors are getting better at limiting the lengths of prescriptions, he noted, but if there is something leftover, “there’s no need to keep it sitting around.”
There are very strict protocols for packaging and shipping the medications collected in the drop box, which does put some extra work on the hospital staff, Hunter said. However, it is an invaluable community service, he said, and well worth it.
The discarded prescriptions are sent to the Drug Enforcement Agency, where they are incinerated.
There is also an environmental concern about flushed drugs getting into the water supply, but Hunter noted that far more enters waterways after human consumption.
“The main way drug residues enter water systems is by people taking medicines and then naturally passing them through their bodies,” according to Raanan Bloom, Ph.D., an environmental assessment expert at the FDA. “Many drugs are not completely absorbed or metabolized by the body and can enter the environment after passing through wastewater treatment plants.”
Dropping off is a quick and easy process, Hunter said. Just pop inside the front doors of the emergency department entrance, pull open the drop slot in the green box and insert the old and unused prescriptions— no questions asked.
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