Medication Safety Week: Pharmacy Take Back disposes of your unused medication

By Kristy Bleizeffer Mar 31, 2014

The Natrona County Pharmacy Take Back program disposes of expired and unused medications, getting them out of homes and keeping them out of our water system. Deposit expired and unused medication at the drop-off box in the Casper City Police Department, 201 N. David St. Casper.

  • DO leave medications in their original containers is possible; Privacy is protected and packaging is destroyed with the medication.
  • DO drop off expired inhalers as they will be disabled for safe disposal.
  • DO NOT drop off needles or other sharps for the safety of the medication sorter. To dispose of sharps,  bring your used sharps containers to the Wyoming Medical Center Employee Pharmacy, on the main floor across from Administration offices, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. WMC staff will gladly give you another sharps container. 
Wyoming Medical Center clinical pharmacist Patti Nelson sorts through discarded medications as part of the Pharmacy Take Back program at the Casper Police Department. She is approaching the 10,000- pound milestone of medications collected, sorted and incinerated.

Wyoming Medical Center clinical pharmacist Patti Nelson sorts through discarded medications as part of the Pharmacy Take Back program at the Casper Police Department. She is approaching the 10,000- pound milestone of medications collected, sorted and incinerated.

Until you see a couple hundred pounds of it altogether, filling boxes and overflowing garbage cans, it’s hard to image how much medication we Americans take. It comes in vials and in capsules. We inject it, inhale it and sometimes snort it. Pills out of their bottles are a kaleidoscope of colors, shapes and sizes. They look more like game pieces or – heaven forbid – like candy than they look like “cures” for whatever it is that ails us.

And that’s part of the problem.

“You don’t want these medications around children, or people who may not understand what they are,” said Patti Nelson, a clinical pharmacist at Wyoming Medical Center. “There are a lot of statistics about people ending up in the emergency room because they did not take the right medication at the right time or they took the wrong medications at the wrong time.

“Unfortunately, some people seem to think it is OK to mix your meds in bottles and lose track of what you have. That is a frightening thing.”

Nelson often gets bags of loose pills like this one, making them hard to identify.

Nelson often gets bags of loose pills like this one, making them hard to identify.

A sample of medications in the Pharmacy Take Back drop box.

A sample of medications in the Pharmacy Take Back drop box.

These vials were dropped off in one plastic bag.

These vials were dropped off in one plastic bag.

Nelson was tucked into a back room at the Casper Police Department, surrounded by buckets full of medications Natrona County citizens are no longer taking. She periodically sorts through hundreds of pounds of the stuff as part of Natrona County’s pharmacy take-back program. Some drugs are expired – the oldest Nelson ever found was from 1962. Some are unidentifiable – she often gets gallon-sized Ziplock bags full of rainbow-colored pills. Some are sealed in blister packs, up-to-date and perfectly useable. Those, she sends to a redistribution pharmacy in Cheyenne where doctors can use them for patients in need.

Some are controlled substances – hydrocodone, oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine and many more. These she sets aside and catalogs for the Drug Enforcement Agency. They will eventually be transported by Casper police to be incinerated. (She must sort it at the police station because it is against the law for her to transport controlled substances, which is why she can’t take old medications at the WMC pharmacy.)

Nelson, a clinical pharmacists for 32 years, is the founder of the local Pharmacy Take Back program, a partnership between Wyoming Medical Center and the Casper Police Department. Anyone can drop off any medication at any time at the DEA-approved drop box in the entry of the Casper Police Department, 201 N David St. When it gets full, police call Nelson to come and sort through it. Throw-aways are incinerated in Wyoming Medical Center’s EPA-approved furnace, at temperatures reaching 1,500 degrees. It’s the only such furnace in the state.

Nelson started the program in October 2007 when some University of Wyoming pharmacy students needed a service project. Nelson had read about a pharmacy take-back program and the students researched it.

Did you know you have to have law enforcement present if we take any controlled substance? one of the students asked.

Nelson did not know. So she called Pete Abrams of the Casper Police Department. They advertised their first take-back for a Saturday morning and collected 121 pounds of drugs.

“We thought we had just died and gone to heaven,” Nelson said.

Monday morning, the phone started ringing. When would they do it again?

Patti Nelson separates controlled substances from other medications to be logged for the DEA.

Patti Nelson separates controlled substances from other medications to be logged for the DEA.

They arranged to go to the Blue Envelope Health Fairs at the Casper Events Center. Nelson watched people walking toward her with bags full of medications. In 2009, the police department ordered a DEA-approved drop box so that people could drop their medications at any time and completely anonymously. Nelson now sorts through about 2,000 pounds of medications per year, and is approaching a 10,000-pound milestone. That’s 10,000 pounds that may have ended up in a landfill or flushed down the toilet.

“Our systems are not meant or able to take these kinds of things out of our water. There is no possibility of it ending up in a landfill. All that’s left is ashes,” she said.

Whenever it’s time to sort, she brings 10 red trash cans with her and usually fills them all. She’s found some curious things: a hearing aid with all the equipment, Tylenol with codeine prescribed in Saudi Arabia. Once, somebody dropped off 17 bottles of expired AndroGel (testosterone gel) worth almost $5,500. She must be careful not to throw away any metered-dose inhalers because they will explode in the furnace and not to stick herself with needles people often throw in the box.

The pharmacy take-back is a free service to people of Natrona County and Nelson encourages people to take advantage – both as a safety issue and as an environmental protection.

“Get this stuff out of your homes and bring it here,” Nelson said. “If it’s old and you are not sure what you ever used it for, it is time to get rid of it.”

 

Medication Safety Week, April 1-7

According to the Women’s Heart Foundation, misuse of medication is the sixth leading cause of death. It has started Medication Safety Week , April 1-7, to bring awareness to the problem. Each day focuses on another action plan to make sure you are using medications safely. For more information on any of the focus days below, click here.

April 1: Clean out your medicine cabinet. Set aside expired medications and outdated prescriptions for drop-off at the Natrona County pharmacy take-back box, located in the Casper Police Department, 201 N. David St. Store medicines in their original containers in a cool, dry place, away from children and pets.

April 2: Know your medicines. Make a list of all medications you take, including both the generic and brand names to prevent double-dosing. Note dosage and how often you take it and educate yourself about its purpose. Divide medications by prescription, over-the-counter, birth control pills/patches and supplements. Update your list whenever something changes. For help, use this printable pdf.

April 3: Read your medicine labels. Ask yourself if you are taking what your doctor ordered. Double check dosage and frequency and pay attention to warning levels.

April 4: Be aware of dietary supplements; some of these can react with your medications. Discuss all supplements with your doctor before you begin the regimen. Take special care when pregnant or breastfeeding. Find more information at Dietary Supplements.

April 5: Organize your meds. Consider a medication box if you are taking more than one pill several times per day, but be sure to monitor it closely. Find more information at Taking Medications Safely. 

April 6: Make special note of transitional care. If your medication regimen changes, make a special effort educate yourself on the new medications. Be diligent on talking with your healthcare providers, double check prescriptions when you pick them up or refill a prescription. Cross-reference changes with your medication list to safeguard against double dosing.

April 7: Talk to your health professionals. Actively seek information from your pharmacist about the pills and supplements you take. Ask for print-out sheets. Take your medication sheet on your next appointment and discuss it with your physician.

 

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