“Yellow Jug Old Drugs” safely disposes unwanted prescriptions

MANISTEE COUNTY – Unwanted, unused prescription drugs pose a risk, both to public health and to the environment.

People often flush their unwanted medications down the drain, and these compounds eventually make their way into lakes, rivers and streams. Other times, prescription drugs are stolen out of medicine cabinets or left behind when someone passes away, then taken and abused, explains Lt. Matthew Kanitz of the Michigan State Police.

But the police, an environmental nonprofit, and local pharmacies are now working together to combat the problem.

Kanitz, who heads SSCENT, the narcotics law enforcement team, discovered Great Lakes Clean Water, a nonprofit that partners with pharmacies to dispose of unused and unwanted prescriptions. He applied for funding from the revenue-sharing board so that Manistee County could participate in Great Lakes’ program, called “Yellow Jug Old Drugs.”

Now three Manistee County pharmacies — Rite Aid, Glen’s of Manistee and Richmond Drug of Bear Lake — are outfitted with yellow containers where residents can drop off non-controlled prescriptions they no longer need. If residents bring in controlled substances, the pharmacist will direct them to a local law enforcement agency for disposal. Under Michigan law, pharmacies are not allowed to collect controlled substances like certain painkillers.

Great Lakes Clean Water collects non-controlled prescriptions from the pharmacies and burns them in a high-temperature incinerator, according to Chris Angel, the organization’s president. The high-temperature incinerator completely destroys the compounds. Law enforcement does the same with controlled substances. That way, the drugs aren’t stolen and don’t get into ground water.

“I just encourage people to clear out their medicine cabinets,” Angel said. “We want to educate people that there is a better way than flushing the drugs or leaving them in the cabinet.”

Angel called pharmaceutical contamination of groundwater “an emerging problem.” Trace amounts of pharmaceutical compounds like antibiotics have been found in water both in large municipal areas like Chicago and Detroit and in more rural areas. Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove or process many compounds found in medications. Pharmaceuticals negatively impact aquatic ecosystems.

Since the “Yellow Jug Old Drugs” program began in 2009, Great Lakes has collected over 55,000 pounds of prescriptions. There are 278 participating pharmacies in Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin.

A list of participating pharmacies can be found at Great Lakes’ website, www.greatlakescleanwater.org

People who have information about drug use can share it with law enforcement anonymously by calling (800) 994-TIPS (8477) or (800) STOPCRIME, or by logging onto www.Isotip.com.

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