By Gabriela Saldivia
Ingham County Chronicle staff writer
INGHAM COUNTY—A new way of disposing of medication, prescription drugs and controlled substances is making its way to Ingham County as soon as June 1.
Ten locations in Ingham County are soon to have controlled medication disposal receptacles, allowing citizens a safe, protected way to dispose of old prescription drugs.
Meridian Township, the Ingham County Sheriff’s Office, and Mason Police Station are three locations in the area that have received resources to start the program early and begin collecting unwanted drugs.
John Stressman, Mason Police chief and chairman of Capitol Area Prescription Drug Task Force, a group whose purpose is to reduce incidences of prescription drug abuse through education and community interaction, said that so far, the program has been very successful and the public has responded well.
“We were real anxious to get it going,” Stressman said. “When we got this opportunity we had to jump on it.”
According to Stressman, the Ingham County Health Department has looked to what Mason Police have started doing as an example. He said with evaluation of the current situation, Ingham County is finding ways improve what is currently being done.
Over the past few months the receptacle has been in place, Mason police been receiving prescription and nonprescription drugs because of the lack of a better place for citizens to dispose of their medication.
“Now it appears we will take in the controlled narcotics, but the nonprescription drugs will go in another receptacle,” Stressman said.
Amy Moore with the Ingham County Health Department estimates involvement with about 12 pharmacies in the area. She said she believes these locations will be most convenient and will have the most effective for dropoffs of noncontrolled substances that still need to be disposed of.
“The goal of this project is that we would have medication disposals within each community at all times, not just one time events like Recycle Rama.” Moore said. “It makes more sense if (citizens) can just drop their medicine off at the pharmacy when (they) are picking up a prescription anyways.”
Moore said Ingham County is emulating a similar program in west Michigan. It is taking the lead from this already successful program and focusing on the non-chain pharmacies in each community, while also making extra efforts to reach out to chains such as Meijer, CVS and Walmart.
Finding pharmacies to have take-back receptacles is made more difficult because of laws regulated by the Drug Enforcement Administration or DEA. These laws are associated with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which protects confidential medical information and other national mandated rules that limit where and how drugs can be disposed of.
Moore said because of these strict laws people have had trouble knowing what to do with medication in the past.
“Because there are so many rules about what to do with controlled substances, medication is getting stockpiled in our homes and our medicine cabinets,” Moore said. “ People know they can’t flush it, they know they’re not supposed to put it in the trash, but they don’t really know what to do with it.”
Michael Allen, a toxicologist with the Ingham County Health Department said that taking part in this program is not something that citizens need to be convinced to participate in.
“The public is what has been pushing for this,” Allen said, “People are calling and really wanting a place to dispose of their meds.”
The potential of environmental pollution is another big factor. Allen said although the overall amount of medicine that makes it into streams and rivers is small, people are aware that these aren’t good things to have “floating around.”
“These are drugs that are designed to do something to the body, and even though these might be in low levels in water they are at levels enough to make an effect. So we want to get them out,” Allen said.
Another big part of the push for the program is to get old, unwanted and addictive medications out of medicine cabinets, according to Allen.
A recent national study done by The Partnership at Drugfree.org and MetLife Foundation showed that one in four teens misused or abused prescription drugs at least once in their lifetime. According to the study, this is a 33 percent increase over the past five years.
Working against these statistics is the Ingham County Substance Abuse Coalition, a group which works to prevent risky behaviors associated with addiction, particularly in youth. Coordinator Kim Thalison said a program like the one soon to be implemented in Ingham County is vital because it is the best way to dispose of drugs safely.
“The very front line for prevention is to decrease the accessibility of dangerous drugs,” Thalison said. “So that’s why the take-back opportunities are so important.”
Earlier this month, Ingham county residents had the opportunity to participate in Recycle Rama, a biannual recycling event that took back a multitude of unique items including unwanted medication.
The DEA periodically has drug take-back events, similar to Recycle Rama. On April 27, which is the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, they will be set up at three locations in Ingham County where residents can bring unwanted medication until more permanent sites in the county are set up.