Proper disposal

Program helps keep unused medication out of water supply, wrong hands

BIG RAPIDS — Pain relievers, allergy medications and antibiotics help many Americans. Unfortunately those same perscriptions also can cause damage to the community.

In recent years, unused medication has found its way into Michigan’s water supply because of how it is disposed of, said Chris Angel, president of Great Lakes Clean Water Organization.

“It’s been general practice — and even policy for individuals, health care institutions, health care agencies and even pharmaceutical companies — to have (it written) on a lot of their instructions to flush (medications down the toilet),” Angel said.

SAFER COMMUNITY: Pharmacy Technician Linda Sigler collects medication dropped off by Norma Campbell in Hillsdale for the Yellow Jug Old Drugs program. The program collects unwanted medicine to stop prescription drug abuse and help keep the Great Lakes water supply clean. (Courtesy photo)

The Barton City-based organization has spearheaded the Yellow Jug Old Drugs program to help keep medication out of the Great Lakes Water supply and . Since its inception in 2009, the nonprofit has properly disposed of 31,000 pounds of unwanted or unused prescriptions.

According to its Twitter account, GLCWO has 241 partners collecting medication in Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin. Collection locations are no further than 20 miles from many areas in the state, Angel said.

As of February, Mecosta County is one of its newest locations.

The Mecosta County Medical Center hosted its first “Yellow Jug Old Drugs” program Feb. 14. Although the collection’s total has not been finalized, Emily Leyder, MCMC director of pharmacy services, estimates 80 pounds of medication was collected.

The center knew the program would be a success because residents have tried to drop off unwanted medicine at the welcome desk in the past.

“Our problem is we have to have a pharmacist look at those medications to make sure they are all acceptable for the Yellow Jug program,” Leyder said. “We just don’t have the staffing to have somebody there all the time to do that.”

The center got involved with the program in November and held its first drive for employees in December. The center opened it to the public last month.

Although only trace amounts of medication has been found in Michigan’s water supply, it is important to curb the pollution.

“One of the things that you hear about a lot of times is frogs having extra legs, those types of things,” Leyder said. “If it is doing that to a frog, then what it is going to do to a human eventually after years of drinking water like that?”

The most common prescriptions found in the water supply are hormones, hydrocodone or other narcotics, Leyder said.

Noticing trace amounts of chemicals and medications in the water supply lead Angel and a group of Northeastern Michigan residents to form the GLCWO. It isn’t an alarmist group, Angel said, rather it hopes to be proactive.

“I’m not afraid to drink my water or water in any city in Michigan, but obviously if you look at what we have collected in a three year span — 31,000 pounds — that is just the tip of the of the iceberg,” Angel said.

In addition to medications dumped down the drain, it also is added to the water supply through excrement and seepage into the soil. Putting medication in coffee grounds or kitty litter before throwing it away has been advocated in the past. However, because landfill waste can seep into the soil and then into the watershed, the preferred disposal method is programs like Yellow Jug.

COLLECTION: The Yellow Jug Old Drugs program collects unwanted medication in jugs like these to properly dispose of them. (Courtesy photo)

The organization partners with pharmacies around the region to collect the medication. Partners receive jugs that contain a solution that dissolves the medication. The organization picks up the jugs every three months in Michigan and has them incinerated, which is considered the proper technique for disposal.

Not only is it important to keep the medication out of the water supply, it also hopes to stop illegal use.

Prescription drug abuse is rising across the country, said Mecosta County Sheriff Todd Purcell. The Yellow Jug solution that dissolves the medication is in place to deter someone from stealing the prescriptions when it is transported.

MCMC plans to hold its next collection in May. The center will hold three collections a year — in February, May and September. Controlled substances, prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications will be accepted. Medications classified as hazardous waste, such as Coumadin, nicotine, Dilantin and metered-dose inhalers, must be taken to a hazardous waste disposal.

The Mecosta County Sheriff’s office and Big Rapids Department of Public Safety also collect medications. Neither location accepts liquids or needles.

Until medications can be collected, it is important to keep them out of reach from children and pets, and keep home doors locked.

For more information on the Yellow Jug Old Drugs program or to find collection locations, visit www.greatlakescleanwater.org.

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