Medications intended to make somebody well can actually become hazardous when left around the house or flushed down the toilet.
Residents of Richmond County came out last week to support a state effort to keep unused prescription drugs out of the hands of children or addicts, and out of the public drinking water supply.
Operation Medicine Drop was sponsored by state agencies and N.C. Safe Kids, and held a drop-off at Medical Center Pharmacy last Thursday and at Lowe’s Home Improvement on Sunday.
“Participation was actually a little bit better than I expected, but not as good as it could’ve been,” said Medical Center Pharmacy Manager Greg Marks.
Marks credited a lack of time to publicize the event with perhaps putting a damper on the amount of drugs collected, but said the pharmacy still collected 140 old prescriptions and an untold number of out-of-date over-the-counter medications.
Among the items collected were controlled substances, such as pain medications and tranquilizers, and medicines for illnesses ranging from thyroid conditions to high blood pressure.
“They carried four or five (tall trash can-sized) boxes out of here,” Marks continued. “Next year, hopefully we’ll be able to get a better handle on it.”
The Sunday drop at Lowe’s also had participation, though store officials said they did not keep a tally of the items that were dropped off.
The effort addresses three major problems with medications, including young children who ingest the medications and are poisoned, prescription drug abuse and the contamination of drinking water sources.
Safe Kids North Carolina said children ages one to five account for about a quarter of all emergency visits due to poisoning, and in many instances the culprit is medicine that is meant to keep people out of the hospital.
However, Safe Kids Mid-Carolinas Coordinator Amy Hamilton pointed out that not only does this effort prevent “the poisoning of our little people,” it also helps to prevent substance abuse.
“It’s a serious problem in our own county - the abuse of medications,” Hamilton said.
A press release from the Attorney General’s Office Wednesday said more than 1 million doses were collected through the statewide effort last week.
“In just one week, people across our state went through their medicine cabinets and got rid of more than a million doses of drugs that could have fallen into the wrong hands and been abused,” said North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper.
“We must continue to get the word out about the dangers of prescription drug abuse, especially among young people.”
The release also pointed out fatal drug overdoses only trail motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of death due to unintentional injury in the United States. Medications account for three-quarters of the poisonings in this state.
Perhaps a more far-reaching effect of the drug disposal effort is cutting down on the contamination of drinking water, officials say.
When drugs are flushed down the toilet, they enter public water systems and aren’t completely removed by treatment methods employed across the country.
In 2008, the Associated Press published a study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, that found the drinking water of at least 51 million Americans contains tiny concentrations of multiple drugs, including antibiotics, sedatives, sex hormones and dozens of others.
The admission by the federal government led many to question whether there was a connection between the contamination and the health of the people who drink the water.
Public concern led to congressional hearings and more studies ordered by the federal agency.
The EPA also added 13 pharmaceuticals, including the antibiotic erythromycin to its list of Contaminant Candidate List as a result of the study, making them candidates for regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers guidelines for the disposal of medications on its Web site, www.fda.gov.
The FDA suggests consumers follow any specific disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information, and don’t flush them down the toilet unless the instructions specifically tell you to do so.
If no instructions are given, throw them in the household garbage, but take them out of their container and mix them with an undesirable substance like coffee grounds or kitty litter.
Before disposing of the container, make the label unreadable to protect your identity and personal health information.
The agency also suggests that when in doubt about medicine disposal, consult a pharmacist.
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 32, or by e-mail at email@example.com.