To protect New York’s water quality, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) launched a statewide pilot pharmaceutical take-back program that offers New Yorkers the opportunity to dispose of medications that are no longer needed. The program helps to ensure unwanted medications are safely disposed of so they don’t get into the wrong hands and are not flushed down the toilet or poured down a drain. Flushed drugs contaminate our lakes, rivers, streams and drinking water supplies, and can cause harm to aquatic wildlife through exposure to low levels of pharmaceuticals.
DEC’s pilot program utilizes on-site medication collection kiosks to provide the public with a safe, convenient, and environmentally responsible way to dispose of unwanted medications. Available to all retail pharmacies, hospitals, and long-term care facilities, DEC’s pilot pharmaceutical take-back program runs for two years at no cost to the participating pharmacy. Over the course of two years, the program covers the cost of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration- (DEA) compliant medication collection box, 50 replacement liners, and the cost of pickup, transportation, and disposal of the waste drugs.
At the conclusion of the two-year period, the pharmacy continues the program for an additional six months at their own expense. DEC estimates the cost of pickups, inner liner replacements, and disposal to be $100 per month.
Collection boxes must be installed by the facility in an area easily and continuously monitored by pharmacy staff and accessible to consumers. In addition, the program now accepts electronic vaping cartridges for disposal. “Sharps,” such as needles, may not be placed in the collection boxes.
The pharmacy at Lewis County General Hospital (LCGH) is a current participant in the pilot program. Diane Loftus, Pharm D, Director of Pharmacy at LCGH believes the pilot has been well received in their community. “Before the drop box was in place, community members let medications build up at home, or they were flushing them down the toilet, or putting them in the garbage. Programs like these are a proven way to dispose of unwanted medications and to keep them away from children, curious teens, and even perhaps the confused elderly. People are especially appreciative to have a way to dispose of medications when a loved one dies, or when they have a pain medication they no longer need,” Loftus said.
LCGH organized their first drug take-back program in 2011 with Mountain View Prevention Services and the Lewis County Sheriff’s Department. In 2016, the hospital installed its first drug drop box using a USDA grant. When the USDA grant money ended, LCGH applied to participate in DEC’s pilot pharmaceutical take-back program.
“During our first few take-back days in 2011, I was blown away at the number of medications people kept around the house. Some medications dated back decades,” said Loftus. “If you want to dispose of your old drugs but don’t have a nearby pharmacy, do not flush medications down the toilet. Instead, if you absolutely have to throw medications in the household trash, take them out of their original container and mix with an undesirable substance such as kitty litter or coffee grounds to keep curious animals and others out of your trash,” said Loftus. DEC’s Tom R. Snow, Jr., has been heading up the pilot pharmaceutical take-back program at DEC for the last three years. “To date, this successful program has enrolled 437 retail pharmacies, hospitals, and long-term care facilities statewide and collected an estimated 112,172 pounds of waste medications for proper disposal,” Snow said.
LCGH is one of several locations in Region 6 with a medication collection kiosk. Additional locations in the region include six retail pharmacies, four hospitals, six long-term care facilities, and five State prisons. In Region 6, the pilot program has collected 7,941 pounds of unwanted waste medications since 2018. Lewis County alone has collected 2,747 pounds of waste medications.
DEC’s pilot pharmaceutical take-back program is a safe, convenient, and effective way to keep drugs out of our waters and out of the wrong hands. To find a free collection site near you or learn more about how DEC’s pilot pharmaceutical take-back program can keep our communities healthier and safer, visit DEC’s website at: www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/45083.html